HARRISBURG, PA — Today, the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee advanced legislation that would make significant improvements to the antiquated, overly punitive, and counterproductive probation system in the Commonwealth.
Senate Bill 838 was recently introduced by Senators Lisa Baker [R] and co-sponsored by Senators Anthony Williams [D], Camera Bartolotta [R], Arthur Haywood [D], Sharif Street [D], John Kane [D], Jimmy Dillon [D], Steven Santarsiero [D], Patrick Stefano [R], Greg Rothman [R], Jay Costa [D], James Brewster [D], and Amanda Cappelletti [D].
It passed out the Senate Judiciary Committee today by a widely bipartisan vote of 10-3.
This sensible and smart solution championed was by REFORM Alliance and a broad coalition of local and national organizations from across the political spectrum that make up the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition.
SB 838 would safely reduce the number of people trapped on endless supervision by standardizing and implementing case reviews and early discharge protocols so that people who have demonstrated a commitment to successful and stable reentry and community success can safely exit the supervision system in a timely manner.
The legislation would improve community safety by incentivizing activities proven to reduce recidivism, like education and employment, through a system of earned time credits for people on probation, which accelerates the opportunity for case reviews and early discharge.
SB 838 would also reduce costly and disruptive incarceration resulting from technical (non-criminal) probation violations through a system of graduated sanctions that hold people accountable while helping them become productive members of their communities without disrupting the progress they’ve made. SB838 narrows the legal definition of a technical violation, limits the circumstances in which people can be incarcerated for technical violations, and places a cap on the amount of time that the court can incarcerate someone for a technical violation.
Pennsylvania’s current supervision system imposes generalized, one-size-fits all conditions of probation on people without due consideration for an individual’s unique circumstances. SB 838 would require that each person placed on probation receive an individualized assessment of their risks and needs and mandates that the court order only the least restrictive conditions necessary to promote the defendant’s rehabilitation and advance public safety.
Together, these provisions will save the Commonwealth millions of dollars to be put towards effective crime prevention and community wellness, safely reduce the number of people unnecessarily under supervision, take critical steps toward addressing the probation-to-prison pipeline, and decrease instability in our workforces and families.
The legislation is a marked improvement over last year’s SB 913, which passed the Senate with an overwhelming bipartisan majority. REFORM is pleased with the following improvements:
- Decreasing the amount of time someone has to spend on supervision before they’re eligible for early termination and expanding eligibility for early termination
- Increasing the standard required to incarcerate a defendant on a technical violation
- Eliminating language that expanded probation detainers
- Increasing the standard required to incarcerate a defendant on a technical violation
- Eliminating longer periods of incarceration for aggravated technical violations
- Decreasing the conditions and burdens associated with administrative probation
- Creating a cap on the length of time someone can be held in custody for the purpose of a mental health evaluation or substance abuse treatment
“We hold such deep gratitude to the many Pennsylvanians who have shared their stories, the advocates who have fought with us for reform, the Governor who spoke out on this issue in his budget address, Senators Lisa Baker and Anthony Williams who listened and crafted the solution we see here today, and the members of the committee who advanced this critical legislation,” said REFORM Alliance Chief Advocacy and Operations Officer Jessica Jackson. “Our coalition worked hard to bring important improvements to SB 838 and today’s progress is an important step toward meaningful reform that truly prioritizes public safety and rehabilitation, putting people on probation on a path toward stability. REFORM Alliance is looking forward to championing the bill through the legislative process and hopes the legislature swiftly passes this bill into law. Pennsylvanians have waited long enough.”
“We have passed laws in recent years to offer people a second chance, better enabling them to find a place to live, access education or training if that is needed, and have a fair shot at employment,” said Senator Lisa Baker. “We will not fully realize the benefits of these changes if we do not eliminate the issues that exist in probation.”
“These reforms are overdue for our communities,” said Senator Anthony Williams. “Recidivism hurts more than just the individuals caught in the endless cycle of incarceration. It’s expensive in this state’s bottom line and causes irreparable harm to families and folks who have served their time and are trying to get back on their feet. Entire communities are torn apart by our flawed system, and I’m proud to vote with the broad, bipartisan coalition that put together this solution today.”
“I believe we’ve crafted a bipartisan product that will improve Pennsylvania’s probation system by addressing serious flaws, which have trapped nonviolent offenders in a cycle of incarceration,” said Senator Camera Bartolotta during the committee hearing. “Probation is supposed to be a pathway out of the criminal justice system. Instead, our Commonwealth is adding more and more people to community supervision and keeping them stuck there. The system has frequently become a probation-to-prison revolving door that is not making our neighborhoods safer, but separating individuals from their jobs, schools, communities, and their families. Criminal justice reform is about making life better for the people of this commonwealth, which means providing more opportunity, safer neighborhoods, and sensibly. using taxpayer dollars on evidence-based practices that actually work. It is time for Pennsylvania to responsibly address probation sentences to ensure minor violations do not become a probation-to-prison revolving door.”
Several members of the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition commended the Senate Judiciary Committee for taking this important step:
“I want to say thank you, Senate Judiciary members,” said Morris Holland Derry III of No More Pain, Inc. (Bucks County), “for passing this important legislation out of committee! We believe the time is now for probation reform here in PA!”
“At Americans for Prosperity, we believe an effective criminal justice protects people and preserves public safety, respects human dignity, restores victims, removes barriers to opportunity for individuals with criminal records, and ensures equal justice under the law for all.” said Ashley S. Klingensmith, State Director of Americans for Prosperity – PA, a member of the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition. “Swift consideration of probation reform legislation by Senate Judiciary Chairwoman Lisa Baker strongly signals a commitment to the above said ideals. This legislation places an emphasis on incentives for deserving individuals to earn shortened probation time after the highest-risk period for recidivism has lapsed. The thousands of Pennsylvanians who have scaled their support of common-sense criminal justice reforms throughout the past two sessions applaud the continued focus on smart-on-crime, soft-on-taxpayer reforms from Chairwoman Baker and Prime Sponsors Camera Bartolotta and Anthony Williams. Our community supervision system needs to do a better job at setting up probationers for success and Senate Bill 838 is an essential step in the right direction.”
“We’re looking forward to seeing the bill continue to move quickly through the House and Senate. Our communities, our families, and our citizens deserve this long-overdue reform,” said Mica Williams, Adult Diversion Director at Foundation of Hope, a member of the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition.
“We wholeheartedly support Senate Bill 838, which serves as a beacon of hope in our collective efforts towards criminal justice reform,” said Ebony McNeil founder of The Forge, a member of the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition. “This bill signals a shift away from antiquated punitive measures towards a system that acknowledges the importance of rehabilitation and personal growth. SB 838 affirms our belief in the power of second chances. It is a vital step forward in fostering safer communities, and a testament to the capacity for positive change in our justice system.”
“In our line of work, we witness firsthand the power of redemption and the human capacity for change,” said Keith Sultzbaugh, Co-founder of Accountable Prison Ministry, a member of the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition. “This bill embodies those principles of compassion and second chances. It’s about uplifting our brothers and sisters who’ve stumbled and are trying to get back on their feet. I applaud the Senators who voted to advance this legislation and am hopeful we will finally bring these measures into law here in Pennsylvania.”
REFORM Alliance aims to transform probation and parole by changing laws, systems, and culture to create real pathways to work and wellbeing.