Session: 2023-2024

ACLU-PA Position: Opposes

Pennsylvania's probation system is archaic and excessively punitive. As one of only seven states that doesn't limit the amount of time someone can be sentenced to probation, Pennsylvania's system is in desperate need of fundamental, structural reform.

Like its predecessor (SB 913), SB 838 fails to reform any of the structural problems that plague Pennsylvania’s probation system. SB 838 does nothing to limit the amount of time someone can be sentenced to probation. It continues to permit judges to stack probation sentences and to impose probation “tails”—a term of probation imposed after a period of incarceration. It fails to provide an automatic, or even efficient, way to terminate probation early—doing little to reduce the number of people under supervision.

As such, SB 838 does not offer meaningful reform to probation in PA. In fact, not only would the core “reforms” proposed under SB 838 have little to no effect on most people on probation, SB 838 risks making probation worse in Pennsylvania by enabling "debtors' probation," trapping people too poor to pay restitution on probation and by making it easier to incarcerate someone for technical violations, including for mere allegations of misconduct.

Unfortunately, SB 838 squanders a rare opportunity to meaningfully improve probation in Pennsylvania while threatening to exacerbate the problems that drive its dysfunction.

Governor Shapiro signed SB 838 into law on December 14, 2023 as Act 44 of 2023.


Senator Lisa Baker





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