Edward Dolan brings over 30 years of experience working in the state justice system to his role as the Commissioner of the Massachusetts Probation Service. Prior to becoming Commissioner in 2013, Mr. Dolan held senior roles in Parole, Forensic Mental Health, and the Department of Youth Services. Mr. Dolan has a master's degree in public administration from Syracuse University and a bachelor's degree in government from UMass/Amherst.
Now that you're half-way through your five-year appointment, how would you describe the department's progress on your goals? Any surprises?
I would say that morale has really rebounded, which has been heartening to see. Another pleasant surprise was to discover that the shared vision was already here. It was a bit trampled, but that vision was not an alien idea. It already existed, I just had to revive what people here had already felt about meeting the needs of probationers.
We no longer use the name the "Office of the Commissioner of Probation" but instead use the "Massachusetts Probation Service" to signify our unity as a team and in our combined efforts. The change signifies that we're one service, one team, and that there isn't a separation between the central office and the folks out in the field. We share the same mission, vision and values to get the job done.
Additional resources are beginning to make a real difference. Until recently, people couldn’t do the job that they wanted to do, because the resources haven't been sufficient. That made it very difficult for Probation professionals who take great pride in their mission and their work.
Now that we have staffing gains and can rebuild the department, we will continue our push to make changes carefully and in the right way. This gives us a platform to do the types of cutting-edge, 21st century work that our professional staff envisions.
The investment in Probation by the Trial Court, the Governor, the Legislature, and many others has really restored the Department’s morale and sense of purpose. Long-term investment acknowledges that our supporters do believe in us and our vital role in public safety.
All of this is to say that we’ve really come together as a Department over the past two-and-a-half years. We have worked hard to define our vision and mission, and that has translated into three main areas of focus:
1. Build the organization; 2. Develop the workforce; and, 3. Implement proven and promising practices in alignment with the Judges, Clerks and other system stakeholders to drive shared outcomes.
Can you give us some specifics on how you plan to achieve this 3-point vision?
Our mission—to keep the public safe by changing the trajectory of the lives of the people who come into our care and custody from a negative one to a positive one—happens through behavioral change affected by interaction. And the seeds for positive, lasting change should get planted during every interaction with a skilled Probation Officer, person-to-person over time: from assessment to case planning, to supervision and support, to rewards and sanctions.
To drill down a bit, we’ve built a management team for all 105 locations. We have clearly defined roles and responsibilities, lines of authority, chain of command, span of control and most importantly, created channels for an open flow of communication up and down the line.
We are intentionally a fairly shallow organization structure. There are only three people between the Commissioner and any Chief Probation Officer; five between me and any line Probation Officer. We have stepped away from the separation and silos: so no more Office of the Commissioner Probation and the Probation Service. Now we’re one unit: the Massachusetts Probation Service. So while we may have different roles and responsibilities, we share one mission, one vision, one set of values and shared goals and objectives—all aligned around increasing public safety and helping those we serve to lead more productive lives in our communities. That is the path to safer communities and long term recidivism reduction. It starts with the non-criminal facilitation work we do with children and families in the Probate and Family Court, and includes the hardest-to-reach criminal cases in the Superior Court.
Court Administrator Harry Spence has said that 2016 is “the year for Probation.” What does that mean?
I would attribute that statement to our rapid transformation as a Department. In fact I would say Probation is almost unrecognizable as an organization compared to when I came on board in June 2013.
We’ve moved from recovery and rehabilitation mode to one of restoration and rejuvenation—and dare I say, redemption, in terms of restoring the public’s trust and the dignity of the people who work here. That applies for both those folks who work for Probation and to those we serve. We still have plenty of work to do, but overall the mood in the Department has really shifted to the positive. You can see and sense the difference when you visit our offices across the state.
Now that we have the resources and processes in place, this is the year where we’re starting to fully implement the fourth generation tools and the best practices. By implementing the latest ORAS and OYAS* screening, assessment and case planning tools; by developing and implementing the latest supervision and support techniques and technologies; and by effectively coordinating and aligning our contributions with our system partners—judges, clerks, prosecutors, law enforcement, defense bar, corrections, the treatment providers, advocates, researchers and our communities and clients—we enhance the positive impact we have on our clients and our communities.
*Ohio Risk Assessment and Ohio Youth Assessment Screening tools
What’s next for Probation? Can you share your vision for the future?
It really comes down to investing in the people who work here. Our future lies in attracting, hiring and training, developing, promoting and retaining the very best people.
We are a workforce of people. Our people are our most vital resources. They will drive the change. And they will carry off the mission. Ninety-five percent of our budget is payroll. And over 95 percent of the payroll are court-based personnel. We have some drug testing, some electronic devices, and some technology, but for the most part, we are people, a workforce, and that is the point of our organization. We need to sharpen that point even more to have the impact we want to have in our work. By fully implementing the new hiring and promotional practices, by investing in our training capacity, by implementing the evidenced-based core correctional practices curriculum and coaching techniques we invest in and develop our most important resource, our workforce.
Any final thoughts you’d like to share with those in the field?
It’s time now to shift the focus. I realize that much of what’s been done over the past 2½ years has been done to everyone: we had to rebuild the organization, create a span of control, and so on. We couldn’t really reach out to the people in the field doing the work and ask them for much input. That’s because we had to change our personnel practices and the way we hired people. But now that we’ve re-set things, the strategic planning process that we’re kicking off is really a way to bring 1,800 voices together to share their experiences, expertise, and knowledge. After all, you are the 1,800 smartest people when it comes to Probation in Massachusetts.
So now it’s time to hear from you in the field. And now it’s about all of us being accountable and figuring out what we can accomplish together. Because now that we’ve built capacity and standardized processes, it’s time to really get going and get it done. I look forward to working more directly with you all. You’re the 1,800-person engine the state needs to drive public safety, change, and the quality of life for the people and the families we serve. Again, the Strategic Plan is the way to harness this energy and knowledge. The plan isn’t an end-state. It’s the footwork and foundation to build a 21st century Probation Department.