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December 9, 2019

HARRISBURG  In response to a vote today in the state House Judiciary Committee, the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania announced that it has dropped its support for legislation to reform the commonwealth’s probation system. The civil liberties advocacy group said in a statement that, barring further amendments to the bill, it now opposes the legislation and urges state representatives to vote against it on the House floor.

House Bill 1555, as introduced by Reps. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland County) and Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia), implemented numerous changes to how probation works in Pennsylvania, including limits on how long probation sentences can last, the chance for people to end their sentences early if they do not have any violations, and retroactivity to allow the reforms to affect people who are currently on probation.

But an amendment passed by the committee today removed those reforms and also added other problematic provisions. Under the amended bill, individual judges could deny medical marijuana patients from using their medication, and people would stay on probation indefinitely if they have not paid restitution, even if they are too poor to pay it. In addition, probation officers would have the power to conduct searches of people under supervision without cause; current law requires that they have reasonable suspicion before they can search someone.

“The committee took an effective, much-needed reform bill and made it unrecognizable,” said Reggie Shuford, executive director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “This is no longer a reform bill. Instead, it is a danger to civil liberties that will harm people on probation. And it includes provisions that are unconstitutional.”

The original bill was supported by a wide array of organizations that included the ACLU of Pennsylvania, REFORM Alliance, Americans For Prosperity Pennsylvania, Commonwealth Foundation, FAMM, and others. The coalition also supports Senate legislation that makes similar reforms to probation.

“State lawmakers have a bad habit of amending good bills into legislation that does nothing or, in this case, makes current law worse while claiming they’ve done something,” said Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania. “It’s easy to blame the majority party, but leaders of both parties played a role in gutting this bill. We hope they fix the damage they’ve done during the amendment process on the House floor.”

House Bill 1555 now heads for a vote before the full chamber, which is expected to happen next week.