Bipartisan Legislation Aims to Close the Probation-to-Prison Pipeline and Promote Rehabilitation and Public Safety

June 11th – Harrisburg, PA – Today, Pennsylvania’s landmark probation reform legislation goes into effect. 

Senate Bill 838, now Act 44, was signed into law by Governor Shapiro in December, 2023. The law passed with overwhelming bipartisan support last year and was supported by more than 125 groups and 500+ advocates from across the Commonwealth including faith groups, reentry organizations, employers, formerly incarcerated and directly impacted leaders, and criminal justice reform advocates.

The victory was a culmination of five years of direct advocacy by REFORM Alliance, the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition, and leaders from across the political spectrum. In 2017, Philadelphia-based recording artist Meek Mill was sentenced to 2-4 years in prison for noncriminal probation violations. His sentence highlighted the many long-standing issues with the Commonwealth’s probation system and sparked a successful grassroots movement to not only free Meek from incarceration but to push for probation reform statewide.

The new law implements several key changes to Pennsylvania’s probation and criminal justice system and is expected to benefit more than 300,000 people on probation over five years:

  • Narrows the definition of what behavior qualifies as a technical violation of probation, creates a presumption against incarceration for most technical violations, limits when incarceration can be ordered for violations as well as the duration of the incarceration. 
  • Ensures courts individualize conditions of probation aligned to people’s unique risks and needs, moving Pennsylvania away from one-size-fits-none standard probation conditions to a more individualized approach while requiring that only the least restrictive conditions necessary for rehabilitation and public safety are imposed.
  • Establishes a statewide standard early termination process, with presumption of termination for those who meet the criteria at the 2-year mark for misdemeanors and the 4-year mark for felonies, or the halfway point of the probation sentence, whichever is sooner. This process does not replace early termination processes that exist at the county level; rather, it creates a baseline process to ensure all Pennsylvanians have an opportunity to earn early termination.
  • Provides incentives for behavior proven to reduce recidivism and benefit the community, encouraging educational attainment and vocational certification by expediting the early termination process by 6-12 months for completing qualifying activities.
  • Codifies protections against punishment for inability to pay court fines and fees ensuring that people are not incarcerated nor have their probation revoked or extended if they are unable to pay, unless nonpayment is willful. 

Individuals on probation in Pennsylvania are advised to consult with an attorney to understand how these changes may impact their individual circumstance. Additional information (NOT legal advice) is available at

“We’ve shown that we believe in second chances here in Pennsylvania – and when someone gets a second chance, that should be a real opportunity to start over and succeed,” said Governor Josh Shapiro. “Act 44 passed with a bipartisan majority in the House and Senate, and it makes commonsense reforms to remove unnecessary barriers for Pennsylvanians who want to rebuild their lives and meaningfully contribute to our communities. Because of this legislation, more people will get to spend the holidays with their families, more parents will get that job they wanted, and more people will get back on their feet. They’ve served their time, they’ve paid their debt to society – we should do everything we can to help them succeed and thrive.”

“This law means that no one will have to go through what I did—getting locked up and facing years in prison for minor, noncriminal probation violations,” said Meek Mill, REFORM Alliance Co-chair. “This is a historic moment for Pennsylvania. I’m honored that my story, alongside the stories REFORM shared, ignited a movement that brought together the whole state to make this change happen.”

“For too long, Pennsylvania suffered from pervasive challenges in its probation system: overly long probation terms, lives ruined by needless incarceration for noncriminal technical violations, people punished for poverty and their inability to pay fines, fees or restitution. This has devastated families and communities,” said Erin Haney, Deputy Chief Advocacy Officer, REFORM Alliance. “Senate Bill 838 represents a significant step forward in shifting our probation system toward a more individualized and rehabilitative approach that gives people a real chance at success – and a pathway out of the system permanently. After fighting for more than five years to pass this law, and working alongside directly impacted leaders who have been insisting on probation reform for decades, we will be closely monitoring its implementation and will keep fighting to ensure that it positively impacts as many Pennsylvanians as possible.”

“My hope is that this new law helps break the cycle of incarceration and endless probation that traps too many Pennsylvanians in the justice system, especially those who are poor, Black and Brown,” said Wallace “Wallo267” Peeples, Chief Marketing Officer at REFORM Alliance. “Senate Bill 838 was a major victory for the people, for justice, and for strengthening our communities. I can’t wait to meet all the families whose lives this will change.”

“This legislation shows what we can accomplish when we unite across party lines and collaborate with diverse stakeholders who bring unique concerns and ideas to the table,” Erik VanZant, a resident of Philadelphia, PA and Pennsylvania State Organizer for REFORM Alliance and Pennsylvania Safety Coalition lead. “The same grassroots coalition that helped pass this law, is going to be eyes, ears, and boots on the ground to ensure the provisions do what they were intended to do: enhance public safety, reduce recidivism, and provide better outcomes for people on probation.”

“I can tell you firsthand, as someone who went through the early termination process just a few years ago, not having guidelines in place and a presumption in your favor makes it incredibly difficult, even if you’re doing well and you have people on your side in the courtroom,” said Latonya Myers, an advocate in Philadelphia who helps people navigate the probation system. “This law levels the playing field and gives everyone in Pennsylvania a clear pathway off probation if they do the right things. That is going to make a real difference for families and communities.”

“An effective probation system is not just a criminal justice and public safety issue; it’s an economic one,” said Chanea Bridges, Program Coordinator at Baker Industries and a member of the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition. “When probation conditions hamper employees from entering the workforce or advancing their careers, it harms our economy and holds entire communities back. I’m especially pleased to see that there will now be incentives for people on probation to pursue education and vocational certification, which will help them gain marketable skills and contribute to our growing workforce. These reforms are urgently needed and I look forward to the positive impact they will have on employees and employers across the state.”

About REFORM Alliance

REFORM is committed to transforming probation and parole throughout the United States by changing laws, systems, and culture.  The organization is working to replace America’s criminal justice system with a restorative approach that is fair, accountable, and invested in rehabilitation. Our goal is for people to reenter society with dignity, create meaningful pathways to work, and equip them with the tools to succeed, all while making families and communities safer and stronger. 

The nonprofit organization was founded in the wake of the #FreeMeek movement. REFORM Board Members include award-winning recording artist Meek Mill; Fanatics CEO Michael Rubin; Arnold Ventures co-founder Laura Arnold; entrepreneur and business mogul Shawn “JAY-Z” Carter; Kraft Group CEO and New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft; Galaxy Digital CEO and founder Michael E. Novogratz; Vista Equity Partners founder, chairman, CEO Robert F. Smith; Brooklyn Nets co-owner and philanthropic investor Clara Wu Tsai.  Veteran criminal justice advocate Robert Rooks leads the organization as CEO.

To date, REFORM has worked to pass 18 bipartisan bills in 11 states, which have created new pathways for more than 800,000 people to exit the system.

About the Pennsylvania Safety Coalition

The Pennsylvania Safety Coalition is a group of concerned Pennsylvanians working together to strengthen our communities and improve public safety by making improvements to the Commonwealth’s supervision system and building strong partnerships that increase public safety and benefit communities. Stay updated on the latest developments at