With House committee vote looming, advocate talks about the fate of probation reform: Monday Morning Coffee

Meek Mill accepts a resolution from Philadelphia City Council honoring his criminal justice work. (Philadelphia City Council/Flickr)

(*This post has been updated)

Good Monday Morning, Fellow Seekers.

The state House is convening for a non-voting session day this Monday morning. And topping the docket is a meeting of the House Judiciary Committee, which is slated to report out a bipartisan bill that makes some profound changes to Pennsylvania’s badly broken probation system.

If it’s approved by the House and Senate, and signed into law by Gov. Tom Wolf, the legislation, sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, and House Minority Whip Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, aims to halt what’s now a revolving door between the probation system and prison.

We chatted recently with Jessica Jackson, the chief advocacy officer for the REFORM Alliance, a nationwide group working toward reforming the system. The group, borne out of Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill’s own travails with the system, has been in the forefront of the legislative push that takes a step forward with the Judiciary Committee’s 1:30 p.m. session in the House Majority Caucus Room.

(*Updated, 7:42 a.m.: We’re now being told by those close to the issue that it’s all-but-guaranteed that the Judiciary Committee will gut the reform bill and replace the reform language and make the law worse. We’ll have coverage on the issue today.

*In a statement, Jeffrey Sheridan, a spokesman for the REFORM Alliance, said the advocacy group “expects there will be changes made today, but this is only the first step in the process. Coalition members will continue working together with lawmakers to achieve meaningful changes to Pennsylvania’s broken probation system.”

The conversation below has been lightly edited for content and clarity. 

(Jessica Jackson of the REFORM Alliance, submitted photo)

Q: What’s the bottom line of what’s happening before the Judiciary Committee today? Why does the average Pennsylvanian need to care?

Jackson: “We’re really excited that a Pennsylvania House committee is going to be moving this legislation.
It was sunshined [publicly advertised] for a hearing. And then it was canceled. [House Judiciary Committee Chairman Rob] Kauffman and others felt so strongly about getting it done that they scheduled a non-session working day to get this done. We’re excited the House has heard the voice of Pennsylvania and [is] getting started on the work of addressing a broken probation system. We’re hoping to get a vote in the House by the end of the week of Dec. 16.”

Maurice Hudson, who was imprisoned for his inability to pay $1,900 in court fees and fines, is free on parole pending a hearing (Philadelphia Tribune photo)

Q: So what’s the heart of the problem here? What’s wrong with the system?

Jackson: “Currently, Pennsylvania has the third-largest number of people on probation of any state in the country. Instead of it being a public safety solution, and getting people back on their feet after they commit a crime, it’s become a revolving door.

Pennsylvania is now spending over $100 million a year in taxpayer dollars supervising people who are on probation. They’re locking them up for missing meetings with their probation officers and not being able to afford their restitution payments — Meek Mill is the most famous example of that. This [bill] is basically a public safety solution … to get people back on track.”

Rep. Rob Kauffman, GOP chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, said at a voting meeting on guns Tuesday, September 24, that he would not ever allow a vote on a red flag law. (Capital-Star photo by Stephen Caruso)

Q: This is talked about a lot, but we’d be curious for your take: Probation reform is an issue that’s brought together advocates from across the system. Why do you think that’s the case?

Jackson: “There’s a right-left coalition on criminal justice reform that’s formed over the last five years nationally. We’ve seen everyone from Koch Industries to the ACLU get together to support a bill that didn’t just free people from prison, but one that also focused on creating a rehabilitative system.

What you’re seeing in Pennsylvania is a continuation of that. Both sides are tired of wasting taxpayer money on things that don’t work, and want to focus on coming up with solutions that do [work]. Democrats have been working on this issue for a long time. Among Republicans, you have evangelicals who believe in the power of redemption and second chances. And you have libertarians who are focused on fiscal responsibility. The underlying reason is that we [all] do believe this will make our communities safer.”

Our Stuff.
In a special report, Stateline.org looks at an increasingly frequent — and increasingly expensive — phenomenon: The public infrastructure and public safety costs of trucks crashing into bridges.

Staff Reporter Elizabeth Hardison goes deep on the partisan stand-off that’s blocking appointments to a crucial oversight board for charter schools, and the toll that’s taking on taxpayers in Pittsburgh.

Washington Bureau Chief Robin Bravender crunches the numbers on the impact that the Trump White House’s food stamp cuts will have in Pennsylvania.

On our Commentary Page, Democratic state Sens. Tim Kearney, of Delaware County, and Katie Muth, of Chester County, say recently passed statute of limitation reform bills didn’t go far enough to help abuse survivors. And opinion regular Dick Polman says progressives shouldn’t be so snarky about Joe Biden’s ‘No Malarkey’ bus tour.

PA Attorney General Josh Shapiro, a likely Democratic candidate for governor in 2022. (Capital-Star file photo)

Elsewhere.
The big topic of this year’s Pennsylvania Society bash in New York City? Pennsylvania’s 2022 elections. Everyone was talking about them — except the candidates, the Inquirer reports.
The inspiration for this month’s presidential forum in Pittsburgh had its roots in Washington, the Post-Gazette reports.
PennLive investigated whether race plays a role in traffic stops in Pennsylvania — the results are inconclusive.
The Morning Call looks at how much your Lehigh Valley university education is worth.

Here’s your #Harrisburg Instagram of the Day:

Hahnemann Hospital won’t pay malpractice insurance for its residents — so they’re on their ownWHYY-FM reports.
One-third of Pennsylvania’s drinking water samples contained toxic chemicals. The state says there’s ‘no widespread contamination,’ WITF-FM reports.
PoliticsPA has last week’s winners and losers in Pennsylvania politics.
Roll Call looks to the very busy week ahead on Capitol Hill.

Hail and Farewell.
Former state Sen. J. Doyle, Corman, R-Centre, father of Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman, R-Centre, died over the weekend. And no matter where you stand politically, you can always put down your swords long enough to mourn the passing of someone who was a public servant to his voters, and a father to his son. So we’d like to take this opportunity to pass along our sincere condolences to Sen. Corman and his family during this very difficult time.

WolfWatch.
Gov. Tom Wolf
 joins the festivities for the annual lighting of the Capitol Christmas tree at noon in the Capitol rotunda today.

What Goes On (Nakedly Political Edition).
Not a session week – but the fundraising grind continues apace. Rep. Perry Warren, D-Bucks, holds a 5:30 p.m. reception at McGrath’s Pub on Locust Street in Harrisburg. Admission runs $250 to $2,500.

You Say It’s Your Birthday Dept.
Belated best wishes go out to reader Becky Ellis, of Berks County, who celebrated on Sunday. And best wishes go out this morning to our former PennLive colleague, Sean Simmers, who celebrates today. Congratulations and enjoy the day, folks.

Heavy Rotation.
Here’s a combo we discovered over the weekend. It’s The Ocean in Films, and ‘Image of You.’

Monday’s Gratuitous Hockey Link.
Winnipeg got past Anaheim 3-2 on Sunday. The Jets’ Mark Scheifele scored twice on the way to the win.

And now you’re up to date.

An award-winning political journalist with more than 25 years' experience in the news business, John L. Micek is The Pennsylvania Capital-Star's Editor-in-Chief. Before joining The Capital-Star, Micek spent six years as Opinion Editor at PennLive/The Patriot-News in Harrisburg, Pa., where he helped shape and lead a multiple-award-winning Opinion section for one of Pennsylvania's most-visited news websites. Prior to that, he spent 13 years covering Pennsylvania government and politics for The Morning Call of Allentown, Pa. His career has also included stints covering Congress, Chicago City Hall and more municipal meetings than he could ever count, Micek contributes regular analysis and commentary to a host of broadcast outlets, including CTV-News in Canada and talkRadio in London, U.K., as well as "Face the State" on CBS-21 in Harrisburg, Pa.; "Pennsylvania Newsmakers" on WGAL-8 in Lancaster, Pa., and the Pennsylvania Cable Network. His weekly column on American politics is syndicated nationwide to more than 800 newspapers by Cagle Syndicate.