HARRISBURG – July 15, 2020 − The Senate approved a bipartisan bill today to improve Pennsylvania’s probation system by addressing serious flaws that have trapped nonviolent offenders in a cycle of incarceration without improving public safety.
Senate Bill 14, sponsored by Senator Anthony Williams (D-8) and Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-46), would begin to restore the probation system to its original purpose of being a pathway out of the criminal justice system.
Under the bill, courts would have stronger guidelines and restrictions on imposing new sentences of incarceration on probationers. Incarceration would be reserved for individuals convicted of new crimes and more serious technical violations. The bill also creates incentives for probationers to succeed through credits for good behavior, such as maintaining a job and performing community services.
Currently, technical violations that are not actual crimes – such as being late for an appointment, traveling out of state or being unable to pay fines and restitution – can lead to excessive extensions of probation or prison time that far exceed the original sentence handed down at trial. The cost to incarcerate these individuals is far greater than the cost of supervision, resulting in wasted taxpayer dollars without any benefit in terms of public safety.
“This legislation will immediately improve the lives of many Pennsylvanians trapped in an inequitable probation system. I am proud to stand today with a coalition of legislators and interest groups spanning the ideological spectrum, who have worked tirelessly to keep SB 14 moving forward,” Williams said. “No single piece of legislation is perfect, such is the democratic art of compromise and negotiation, however the protections and incentives contained in this bill will result in more fair and just community supervision that truly enhances public safety.”
“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 families,” Bartolotta said. “By matching the punishment to their offense and rewarding good behavior, this legislation moves us towards our ultimate goal of rehabilitating offenders and restoring communities.”
The bill also creates a mandatory probation review conference after three years for misdemeanor convictions or five years for felony convictions, with a presumption that probation will be terminated unless the individual does not qualify. The review could occur earlier based on the good conduct of probationers and on the achievement of educational, employment and other goals.