We read with interest Abdallah Fayyad’s column in the Sept. 17 Ideas section (“Probation is supposed to be an alternative to prison. It might be a trapdoor instead.”) on the national challenges of privatization of probation, leading to increased incarceration. We write to highlight how Massachusetts has responded to these national challenges with a different approach. In fact, the Council of State Governments cites Massachusetts as sending the fewest number of individuals in the country to state prison due to supervision violations.
The Massachusetts Probation Service is a state-funded department within the Massachusetts Trial Court. To remove any incentive to keep people on probation unnecessarily, the Legislature rightfully abolished the practice of retaining revenue for the Trial Court more than a decade ago. MPS is not involved in privatization or “pay for probation” initiatives. Our probation officers are well-trained, unionized state employees who directly supervise individuals involved in the criminal justice system.
In Massachusetts, the requirement for probationers to pay supervision fees was eliminated in stages over five years, with the remaining supervision fees eliminated more than a year ago by the executive and legislative branches. There is currently no requirement for individuals to pay any probation or parole supervision fee.
MPS is oriented toward keeping people in treatment in the community, using graduated sanctions and incentives to improve compliance with supervision and avoid incarceration. Evidence shows that this approach reduces recidivism and improves public safety. MPS and the Trial Court have introduced proactive measures to help probationers access health care, locate housing, and obtain employment.
Through these approaches, we are seeing great progress among the individuals we supervise and improved public safety in our communities. With our criminal justice partners across the state, the Massachusetts Probation Service will continue to lead the nation in developing innovative solutions to help probationers make positive change in their lives.
Acting commissioner of probation
Deputy commissioner of probation, programs
Massachusetts Probation Service