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Massachusetts Trial Court stops hiring

BOSTON — The state’s Trial Court has stopped hiring probation and court security officers because there is still no test for new hires to take as required under the Legislature’s overhaul in the wake of a 2010 patronage scandal.

Union officials are worried that the hiring freeze that went into effect on Monday will put public safety at risk because people on probation won’t be properly monitored.

“We’ve seen that the shortage of staff has led to a lot of slippage at (the Department of Children and Families), and the same thing could, in fact, happen if we don’t have the personnel in the probation service,” David Holway, president of the National Association of Government Employees, which represents probation officers and court security, told the Boston Herald.

“People are put on probation, we’re supposed to keep an eye on them, and if we don’t have the personnel to do that, something’s going to slip between the cracks.”

Reforms passed in August 2011 required written exams for new probation and court security hires and candidates for promotions — but those tests still haven’t been created because the state had trouble finding a testing contractor, Trial Court Administrator Harry Spence said.

Until this week, hiring continued without the test, with new employees getting their jobs on the condition they pass the test once it is created, Spence said.

Holway said that of the state’s approximately 2,000 probation and court security officers, a “couple hundred” have been either hired or promoted since the reforms, while at least 100 vacant jobs are now on hold because of the freeze.

The freeze comes as former Probation Commissioner John O’Brien and two former deputies gear up for a federal racketeering trial. Prosecutors allege they awarded jobs to politically connected candidates over more qualified candidates in exchange for a bigger budget from lawmakers. They deny the charges.

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Information from: Boston Herald, http://www.bostonherald.com

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