HARRISBURG, Pa. (Erie News Now) – Monday at the PA State Capitol, several organizations called on lawmakers to take up a comprehensive probation reform bill. Senate Bill 913 passed the Senate last December with bipartisan support and now advocates are urging the House to get it across the finish line.
“Probation reform is part of a workforce development agenda in Pennsylvania,” said Alex Halper, Director of Government Affairs for the PA Chamber of Business and Industry.
Halper says businesses around the commonwealth are struggling to retain talent, adding that the current parole and probation system is not doing them any favors.
“This type of reform is critically important to expanding the pool of talent of individuals to fill these open positions that so many Pennsylvania employers are experiencing,” said Halper. “It’s harming employers, it’s harming communities, and it’s a detriment to Pennsylvania’s economy,” he added.
Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of people on probation and parole in the country, ranking eleventh in the nation. More than half of individuals admitted to prisons are there for violations of probation or parole. However, many of those violations are not criminal.
“When you have, for years and years, people reentering the system just due to technical violations- they are not committing a new crime- I think that is fodder for reexamination,” said Ashley Klingensmith, State Director for Americans for Prosperity – Pennsylvania, one of several organizations calling on the House to take up Senate Bill 913.
SB 913 limits technical violations, like traffic offenses, and creates a new probation review process to help incentivize individuals.
“Senate Bill 913 limits the use of severe penalties, such as an incarceration for a failure to pay fines and fees only to those who willfully refuse to fulfill such obligations. It establishes a system of graduated sanctions for those who violate other terms of supervision,” said Klingensmith. “The legislation creates a new probation review conference process where judges can review someone’s progress at three years for misdemeanors, five for felonies into their probation term, and gives individuals an opportunity to earn their way to early release or greater freedom,” Klingensmith added.
Klingensmith says the bill can help taxpayers, the state’s economy and an overwhelmed law enforcement community.
“Law enforcement is strained. This is going to free them up to focus on the folks that need more help to succeed,” said Klingensmith. “It ensures that our limited prison resources are focused on those who commit new crimes,” she added.
The bipartisan bill also has support from law enforcement, who say similar local initiatives have been successful.
“92 percent of those individuals who had their probation supervision terminated early, did not return with a new offense,” said David Sunday, the York County District Attorney.
Sunday says provisions in SB 913 account for victims of crimes as well, giving them an opportunity to weigh in on whether they believe an early probation termination is warranted.
“This initiative seeks and provides for victim input on whether a defendant should receive early termination of their supervision, as secured by the District Attorney’s Office and passed on through probation to the courts,” said Sunday.
Advocates say the legislation will reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitation and redemption.
“A better probation system can help improve public safety and move our commonwealth toward a justice system that emphasizes both accountability and rehabilitation,” said Klingensmith. “This legislation properly balances the equally important interests of corrections the victim, the offender and the commonwealth at large,” she added.