The Pennsylvania Senate has approved a bipartisan probation reform designed to provide early release opportunities and incentives for education, employment, vocational training, and drug treatment programs.
The Senate approved Senate Bill 913, 46-4, Wednesday in an effort to reduce incarceration as a punishment for minor probation violations, such as cross-border lines for legitimate reasons or inability to leave work for probation meetings.
The bill addresses several aspects of inmates on probation, including adding child support or vocational training as conditions of release, allowances for probationers to leave the jurisdiction of a court, prohibition imprisonment for minor probation violations and specific maximum penalties for technical violations.
SB 913 requires courts to consider incarceration to be served on weekends and holidays for first and second violations, and sets minimum time limits for initial three-year probation review conferences for misdemeanors and five years for felony convictions.
The bill also sets standards for state probation reports and orders copies for the defendant, the court, the Commonwealth and all victims registered with the Pennsylvania Office of Victim Advocate. If no one objects to the status report, the probationer review conference is canceled.
The bill requires courts to consider probation review conferences six months in advance if probationers obtain a high school diploma, college diploma, trade or trade license, complete certified vocational training, or ” any other condition approved by the court at the time of sentencing that significantly assists the defendant in leading a law-abiding life or meeting the defendant’s rehabilitation needs âwhile on probation.
Other changes would reduce the probation period by two months for every six consecutive months probationers complete without violation, as well as the same reduction in time for those who maintain at least 80 hours of employment or community service per month, although “in no case will the total reduction in calculated time … exceed six months”, according to the bill.
The legislation also places restrictions on courts ordering total segregation for probation violations, specifically prohibiting the practice for non-payment of fines or costs, and allowing only in cases involving sex crimes or assault, possession of weapons, three or more breaches of conditions, threats to public safety and runaways.
“The reform measures approved by the Senate take a giant step towards implementing greater fairness in the process, eliminating excessive incarceration, giving individuals a more reliable second chance to live their lives well and giving taxpayers a break in the constantly increasing correctional state. costs, âsaid Senator Lisa Baker, R-Dallas, sponsor of the bill. “I am proud to have worked with reform advocates, judicial and correctional leaders and lawmakers seeking to achieve constructive and lasting reform, and I applaud their efforts to come together.”
Wednesday’s approval comes a year after the Senate approved a similar bill in the last legislative session that failed to gain full General Assembly approval. Pennsylvania has more than 300,000 residents on parole or probation, the second-highest supervised population in the country, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.
“It’s time for Pennsylvania to join the 30 other states that have responsibly handled probation sentences to ensure that minor offenses do not become a revolving door of prison probation,” said Senator Camera Bartolotta, R -Washington. “Our legislation will do this by addressing the flaws in our probation system that have trapped non-violent offenders in a cycle of incarceration.”
All three bills are now heading to the House for consideration.