Dan Winslow

Dan Winslow is a former Presiding Justice of Wrentham District Court, and a candidate for Representative in the 9th Norfolk district. Following the Globe‘s recent investigative article about patronage jobs at the Probation Department, Winslow has posted a series of sensible reforms to curb court system abuses.

His statement follows:

It’d be a good idea to merge the Probation and Parole functions under the Executive branch, provided the judicial power to manage courthouses and to issue binding orders would not be impeded.  Sadly, the Globe’s Probation Department story could have been written about countless other state agencies and authorities.  It’s really a reflection of the culture of corruption and cronyism that pervades our One-Party state.  In the spirit of solving the problem rather than trashing state employees (most of whom are hard-working and perform important missions with little fanfare and less thanks), I have proposed seven steps to improve the Probation Service:

1.  The Probation Commissioner and Top Managers Should Serve a Fixed Term, Coterminous with the Chief Justice for Administration and Management, and At the Pleasure of the Chief Justice.  Under current law, the Chief Justice is subject to review and reappointment every five years, while the Probation Commissioner has no limit on the term of his appointment;

2.  The Judicial Branch budget should be a single lump sum by the Legislative Branch, with appropriate Performance Measures to Assure that Public Monies are Responsibly Spent.  Under current law, the Legislature controls the internal management of the Trial Court by line-items for every courthouse and specific functions within the Judicial branch.  Aside from the likely constitutional problems from such violation of the separation of powers, the Probation Department example shows that Legislative micromanagement of the Judiciary leads to waste, lack of accountability, and abuse of power;

3.  The Trial Court Should Immediately Accept Payment by Checks and Credits Cards Instead of Requiring Cash Only.  Most courthouses in Massachusetts do not accept checks or credit card payments, leaving court employees to handle more than $100 million in cash each year.  A cash-based system has led to corruption and waste, especially since Probation Officers (whose time would be better spent assuring that defendants remain clean, straight and sober) are responsible for chasing payments that easily could be made by credit cards.  Payment for routine matters, such as fees and fines for non-defaulting defendants, also should be handled over the Internet, rather than requiring people to miss a day of work to pay money to court in cash in person;

4.  The Probation Department Staffing Levels, Including Management, Should be Indexed to Caseloads and Benchmark Years Such as 2000.  The number of Full-Time Equivalent Employees (“FTE”) in the Probation Department has increased even as the volume of criminal cases in Massachusetts decreased.  While some of that increase can be attributed to a fundamental and positive mission shift (for which Jack O’Brien deserves credit) to get Probation Officers into the community instead of sitting behind their desks, the Legislature should base budget decisions indexed to the FTE count as of 2000, before the legislative changes that led to the explosive growth of patronage hires.

5.  Massachusetts Should Use the Internet, Similar to USAJobs.gov, to Create a Transparent and Objective System to Evaluate the Threshold Qualifications for New Hires and to Create Equal Opportunity for Persons to be Hired for Probation Jobs on Merit.  The federal government uses a public website, http://www.usajobs.gov, to advertise new positions and to accept resumes from interested applicants.  If an applicant fails to meet the minimum requirements for education and experience, the website automatically rejects such applications.  Massachusetts has no such one-stop, transparent internet-based system to accept and screen applications for employment at the state, county, authority and local levels.  Ironically, the usajobs.gov website is operated by a Massachusetts company, monster.com.

6.  Eliminate the Probation Department’s Exemption from the Public Records Law for Performance Metrics, Such as Recidivism Rates and Caseloads, To Ensure that Tax Dollars are Being Effectively Managed.  The Probation Department is exempt from the state’s Public Records law, as part of the state Judicial Branch.  The Legislature has a proper role to ensure that state government is effective and accountable to the people, and should define non-defendant specific metrics to assess Judicial branch performance.  The public and legislators need to know what programs work and which do not work in the Probation Department, so that best practices can be replicated and wasteful and ineffective programs can be terminated.

7.  Provide Management Training and Oversight to Correct or Weed Out Non-Performing Employees and Eliminate the Conflict of Interest of Managers in the Employee Union.  Many Probation Department staff with management responsibilities are members of the same union as the employees they supervise.  Some top managers even retain “drop back” rights to rejoin the union in the unlikely event their management jobs are eliminated.  The single greatest impediment to an effective workforce is ineffective management.  The Trial Court should develop and train all management employees in progressive discipline and management skills to prevent politically-connected employees and others from no show or low show work habits.

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