On May 30, Reps. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), House Democratic Whip Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia), Mike Jones (R-York), and Ed Gainey (D-Allegheny) introduced bipartisan legislation-- House Bill 1555-- aimed at reforming Pennsylvania’s probation and parole system to reduce recidivism, lessen the workload on Pennsylvania’s counties and help formerly incarcerated individuals avoid technical pitfalls that keep them trapped within the system. Read more here.
“When we have too many people on probation, the caseload can burden our county probation agents who need to focus on those who most need supervision. We need to find a balance that serves both offenders and their victims and keeps our communities safe. The probation system needs to be reviewed to ensure it is modernized and run efficiently,” Rep. Delozier said.
“Simply put, the way Pennsylvania operates probation and parole is outdated and leading to formerly convicted people getting caught in a system that’s loaded with trap doors,” Rep. Harris said. “As a state, we need to acknowledge that the majority of people on probation and parole are working to reform their lives and become contributing members of their communities again, but the system acts like quicksand – the harder you try to get out the more it pulls you back in. This legislation will eliminate many minor, technical violations that entrap people while also giving our probation and parole officers the ability to do their jobs more efficiently.”
House Bill 1555, known as the Smart Probation and Parole Act, aims to remove pitfalls that plague the parole and probation system and cause people who make nonviolent mistakes to be pulled back into the criminal justice system.
The changes include preventing the court from sentencing a person to consecutive sentences of probation, preventing the court from extending probation or parole due solely to nonpayment of fines and costs, and creating a system of incentives that rewards good behavior.
The bill would also remove testing positive for legal medical marijuana, as well as leaving the jurisdiction of the court without the intent to permanently avoid supervision, as violations.
Pennsylvania, which has the second-highest percentage of citizens on probation or parole in the country, has seen its prison population increase by approximately 850 percent over the past 40 years at a cost of $2.4 billion per year to taxpayers.
A recent study of information from the Department of Corrections showed that nearly one-third of prison beds were occupied by people who violated terms of their probation or parole.
The legislation has widespread bipartisan support in the House, as well as bipartisan advocate support, including groups such as REFORM Alliance, The Commonwealth Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, #cut50, Justice Action Network, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
“We are exerting a lot of time, money and law enforcement resources that could be better focused on more egregious offenders,” Rep. Jones said. “Keep in mind, we also have a serious labor shortage. That makes moving people from prison to the workforce a win-win situation for everyone.”
“I want to thank my fellow legislators for working to put forward this legislation and giving hope to the many young men and women trapped in our criminal justice system. Too many people in our state have become second-class citizens because they have been put into a system designed for failure. We don’t just need criminal justice reform — we need criminal justice reconstruction,” Rep. Gainey said. “If we want to put humanity first, if we want to give people a chance at having a life after parole, and if we really want to see change in our criminal justice system, then we need to join together at the state Capitol and support this bipartisan legislation today. Because for too many Pennsylvanians, tomorrow could be too late.”
“Pennsylvania is one of the worst offenders when it comes to having too many people on probation and parole — for way too long,” said REFORM CEO activist, author and CNN host Van Jones. “The Smart Probation and Parole Act introduces common sense solutions that favor rehabilitation over re-imprisonment. I hope this bill returns Pennsylvania to being the beacon of American independence it could be.”
“Too often, our probation and parole systems are counterproductive, making it more likely that individuals will return to prison rather than successfully transition back into productive society,” said Nathan Benefield, vice president and COO of The Commonwealth Foundation. “Key reforms, like evidence-based probation sentencing and focusing resources on those who most need probation supervision, will save money and reduce recidivism while improving public safety.”
“Community supervision populations are a major driver of Pennsylvania’s criminal justice system, and in dire need of common sense solutions,” said Jenna Moll, deputy director of the Justice Action Network. “Efforts to incentivize compliance, create tailored sanctions for technical violations, and limit probation terms are proven methods of reducing recidivism and costs. The Justice Action Network commends Representatives Harris and Delozier for continuing their track record of bipartisan success and teaming up on this critical bill. With measures to reform probation practices now pending in both chambers, the message in Harrisburg is clear: now is the time to pass these bills and get probation back on track in Pennsylvania.”
“The current probation system makes it unnecessarily difficult for returning citizens to get back on their feet and be contributing members of society,” said Ashley Klingensmith, Pennsylvania state director of Americans for Prosperity. “This is costly for taxpayers who are left footing the bill for bloated prison populations, but also for those returning individuals who have lost not just time with friends and family but also opportunities to build a life of fulfillment. Pennsylvania should view reentry as an opportunity to set folks up for success, not failure.”
Representatives Delozier and Harris have championed criminal justice reform in the Pennsylvania legislature, working in a bipartisan fashion on clean slate legislation signed into law last session.
Pennsylvania’s clean slate law, which gives nonviolent offenders who have stayed out of trouble the chance to seal their criminal record from public view, has been lauded as a national model of positive criminal justice reform.
“Bipartisanship is alive and well, and the proof is in criminal justice reform action across the country. I’m proud to work with such a diverse group of legislators and stakeholders as we make Pennsylvania a national leader on this topic and save millions of dollars in the process that can be reinvested in education and infrastructure and further help our constituents,” Rep. Harris added.