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Former probation commissioner and Melrose resident honored as “community hero”

Posted by Christina Jedra  May 7, 2013 07:25 PM

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John Larivee, CEO of CRJ; Scott Harshbarger, board chairman; Ron Corbett; Thomas DeSimone, Annual Spring Reception Co-Chair; and Joe Carter, Annual Spring Reception Emcee.

Photo: Margaret Brett Hastings.

Last week, retired Acting Probation Commissioner and longtime Melrose resident Ronald P. Corbett Jr. was honored as a community hero by Community Resources for Justice, a 130-year-old organization that aims to improve public safety and help individuals adapt to society. He was recognized for spearheading the transformation of the Massachusetts Probation Service and facilitating re-entry programs for ex-offenders. 

Corbett said he felt undeserving but honored by the title. 

“You know, I think of Sean Collier, and all those brave first responders. All those people are heroes,” he said. “But you appreciate the honor and the gesture.” 

The Boston-based non-profit, which aids ex-offenders and individuals with developmental disabilities, awarded Corbett on Wednesday, May 1 at their Annual Spring Reception. After a nomination process, the group’s board of directors selected Corbett as this year’s community hero. 

John J. Larivee, chief executive officer at Community Resources for Justice, said that people honored as community heroes often have some similar characteristics. 

“They tend to be people who have quite a career,” he said. “They’ve got a long track record of significant contributions at both the local and national level.”

Corbett, who oversaw hundreds of employees in his two year run as commissioner, said that he saw much improvement in the department during his time there. He said he helped to implement a new system of assessing and supervising adult probationers, build partnerships with other agencies, and modernize their personnel practices. The department has also made an effort to be more “media friendly,” he said, by being open to inquiries and answering questions promptly. 

“Ron has done tremendous work. He really was committed to a rethinking of how probation ought to do its business,” said Larivee, who noted Corbett’s transparency, ability to take recommendations, and the way he simplified the focus of his officers. 

However, Corbett, who retired in mid-January, said that he should not be the only one credited for these improvements. 

“I never use the first person singular because that would be misleading,” he said. “It was always a team effort. I had the good fortune to work with a lot of talented people.”

In his nearly four decades as a Massachusetts Court employee, Corbett has served as a probation officer, assistant chief probation officer, regional director and director of the Supreme Judicial Court. 

“I’ve seen so many cases where people have changed their lives,” he said. “I saw too many people succeed not to believe we don’t make a difference.” 

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