The Lead

Advocates push for legislation to reform Pennsylvania’s probation system

By: - September 26, 2023 5:30 am
Pennsylvania Capitol Building. May 24, 2022. Harrisburg, Pa. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

Pennsylvania Capitol Building on Tuesday, May 24, 2022. (Photo by Amanda Berg, for the Capital-Star).

A group of community organizations has sent a joint letter of support to lawmakers in Harrisburg, urging the passage of legislation which would make changes to Pennsylvania’s probation system.

Senate bill 838 passed the state Senate 45-4 and was unanimously advanced by the House Judiciary Committee in June. It would require courts to hold probation review conferences for probationers, set criteria for when the conferences occur, and establish a presumption that probation would end unless the person didn’t qualify.

The signers of the letter are groups that form the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition, and include public safety leaders, advocacy groups, elected officials, and formerly incarcerated people. The REFORM Alliance, a non-profit advocacy organization focused on probation, parole, and sentencing reform in the U.S., has led the efforts to see SB 838 passed. The group was co-founded by rapper Meek Mill, who was sentenced in 2017 to years in prison by a Philadelphia judge for violating the terms of a probationary sentence from ten years earlier. Mill was pardoned by then-Gov. Tom Wolf in January.

“Every day that passes without this bill, Pennsylvania’s probation system fails more people, more families, more communities,” said REFORM Alliance chief advocacy and operations officer Jessica Jackson. “After more than five years of debating probation reforms in Harrisburg, the 125+ organizations that signed on in support of this bill know we can’t afford to wait any longer. This bill will change lives for the better and we have the opportunity to change them now.”

But the American Civil Liberties Union Pennsylvania (ACLU-PA) opposes the legislation because it “fails to reform any of the structural problems that plague Pennsylvania’s probation system,” according to a memo which calls it “faux probation reform.” SB 838 does not limit the amount of time someone can be sentenced to probation, and fails to provide an automatic way to terminate probation early, the ACLU-PA states, and “risks making probation worse in Pennsylvania.”

The House returns to Harrisburg this week, with the House Judiciary Committee set to convene on Wednesday.

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Kim Lyons
Kim Lyons

Kim Lyons is a veteran western Pennsylvania journalist who has covered people and trends in politics and business for local and national publications. Follow her on Threads @social_kimly