Patronage in the Probation Department

Globe Spotlight Team report on hiring and promotion practices within the Massachusetts Probation Department, and coverage of the investigation that followed.

May 23, 2010 | Spotlight Report - Part 1

Agency where patronage is job one

John J. O’Brien has hired friends, relatives, and politically connected candidates at the Probation Department.

John Tlumacki/Globe Staff

Over the course of 23 years, Jack O’Brien transformed the Probation Department from a national pioneer into an organization that functions more like a private employment agency for the well connected.

May 24, 2010 | Spotlight Report - Part 2

O’Brien rise and reign defined by tenacity

Investigating attorney Paul Ware is said to be looking deeply into the way people are hired in the 2,200-employee agency.

July 25, 2010 | Spotlight Follow-up

Evidence of insider job deals at agency

The independent counsel investigating the Massachusetts Probation Department has found strong evidence that suspended commissioner John J. O’Brien manipulated his agency’s hiring and promotion process to advance applicants with insider support.

July 25, 2010 | Spotlight Report

A legacy of lax oversight and dubious claims

The troubles at the state Probation Department go way beyond patronage. Key programs have gone astray, with bloated budgets and indifferent management; caseload reports are wildly exaggerated; and a culture of secrecy has enveloped it all.

Latest news

// Ex-probation chief sentenced as system decried

John O’Brien was sentenced after being convicted of running the department like a criminal enterprise.

// 3 guilty in probation corruption case

A sweeping verdict found that former chief John O’Brien ran the Probation Department like a criminal enterprise.

Relief over probation verdict, concerns over pace of change

Victims of corruption in the Probation Department reacted with relief and elation.

DeLeo could be further haunted by probation verdict

The House speaker himself was never charged, but prosecutors had argued in the trial that he joined in John O’Brien’s conspiracy.

Outcome brings few words from lawmakers

Outside the Senate chamber, senators insisted they had to be somewhere else, had not read the verdict, or were busy with other business.

Thomas Farragher

// The spectacular collapse of Jack O’Brien

Just because all your friends were handing out jobs, commissioner, didn’t make it right. In fact, the jury said, it was a broad criminal enterprise.

More Spotlight reports and Globe investigations


The Boston Globe’s Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church in 2002 has spawned the movie “Spotlight.” Go inside previous reports from the Globe’s Spotlight team.

Editor's note

On May 23, 2010, the Globe Spotlight Team published the first in a series of reports about rampant patronage hiring in the state's Probation Department. The reports led to a criminal investigation. Top officials have been convicted of mail fraud, racketeering and conspiracy.

Probation scandal probe

The Ware report

Paul Ware

SJC orders probation overhaul as report finds rampant fraud

The state’s highest court embraced special counsel Paul F. Ware’s conclusion that the Probation Department is riddled with fraud and “systemic corruption.”

Thomas Petrolati, the 'king of patronage'