HARRISBURG, Pa. - As proposed legislative changes to Pennsylvania’s probation system move quickly through the General Assembly, several criminal legal reform advocates spoke out today in opposition to the bill, warning that the revisions will make things harder for many people on probation.

Senate Bill 838 was introduced in the Senate on June 21, passed out of committee the next day, and passed the full Senate on Tuesday. The bill was approved by the House Judiciary Committee last night and is now under consideration in the state House.

The American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, Abolitionist Law Center, and 45 other organizations joined a sign-on statement in opposition to the legislation. The following can be attributed to Elizabeth Randol, legislative director of the ACLU of Pennsylvania:

“Probation in Pennsylvania is in desperate need of reform. It feeds mass incarceration by keeping people trapped in a system of restrictions that inevitably keeps them in its clutches, leading to more time under supervision and even periods of incarceration.

“Unfortunately, this bill doesn’t fix the problems. SB 838 fails to cap the periods of years that people can be sentenced to and kept on probation. While it creates a presumption against jail time for violations of probation rules, the exceptions are so broad that it renders the presumption meaningless. And, perhaps most appalling of all, it creates a new form of probation for people who haven’t finished paying their restitution, including to corporations, perpetuating a debtors’ probation.

“For years, counties have been implementing their own reforms to probation. And the Commission on Sentencing’s new guidelines actually do more for reform than this bill does. The General Assembly has tried but failed to tackle this issue. They should leave it to others.”

The following can be attributed to Robert Saleem Holbrook, executive director of Abolitionist Law Center:

“The speed at which SB838 is being rushed through the House without the input of more than 40 criminal justice reform organizations is a reminder of how House leadership on both sides of the aisle trample over the interests and well-being of communities impacted by mass incarceration. Politicians and the national organizations behind this bill are more interested in cutting deals and currying political favor than dismantling a broken system that disproportionately harms Black, working class and poor people.”

More information about Senate Bill 838 can be found at this link.