Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick will seek to wrest control of one of the fastest-growing but most secretive state agencies, taking direct charge of the probation officers who supervise criminals when they serve their sentences outside a prison cell, reports the Boston Globe. The proposal would largely remove the Probation Department from the court system, where, critics say it has become a backwater of patronage jobs and bloated budgets, operating mostly independent of other public safety agencies.
It also has been buffeted by a corruption investigation after the indictment of a probation clerk last month for allegedly embezzling $2 million. Patrick's move sets up an election year showdown with the legislature, which has strongly supported longtime Probation Commissioner John O'Brien. The legislature twice overrode attempts by Patrick to cut probation's budget last November and, in 2005, took away the trial courts' authority to transfer money from probation to other parts of the system.