In a rare moment of bipartisan agreement, both Republicans and Democrats agree that the parole and probation system in Pennsylvania needs to change. Three new bills are under review with the state senate that seek to shorten parole terms and reduce the number of minor infractions that send people on parole back to jail.
As well as lawmakers and civil liberties advocates, the Pennsylvanian public also supports reform. 75% of the 500 voters polled this year said that they would vote in favor of probation reform. Part of the incentive is cost, as Pennsylvania’s longer probation terms mean more tax dollars spent on parole and probation efforts. But another piece is more human. The Pennsylvania justice system is tricky to navigate. It makes more sense to allow people who have served their time to get back to their families, jobs and lives rather than stay caught in a web of parole requirements.
What changes do the bills propose?
Senate bills 500, 501 and 502 work together toward the major goals of reducing repeat arrests, lowering the current population in prison and refocusing the Pennsylvania criminal justice on rehabilitation rather than punishment. Specific measures in the bills include:
- Capping probation terms at five years for felony charges and two years for misdemeanor charges
- Replacing jail time with mandatory recovery placement for offenders with substance abuse issues
- Reducing the list of minor infractions, such as being late to a parole meeting, that return those on parole to jail
- Creating programs that shorten parole terms for individuals who consistently meet their parole obligations
Overall, the reforms could save Pennsylvania over $44 million in prison costs. The bills also outline a Justice Reinvestment Fund that would use part of the savings to continue improving the state’s criminal justice system.
What is the timeline for these bills?
Supporters of the bills hope that the reforms could become law by the end of 2020. For now, Mariano Law Firm will continue to keep tabs on the changes as they affect best practices in criminal case defense.