This article first appeared in The Investigator, Spotlight PA’s weekly newsletter featuring the best in investigative and accountable journalism across Pennsylvania. Sign up for free here.
HARRISBURG — A bill aimed at overhauling probation in Pennsylvania has passed the state Senate for the third time in five years.
But like previous attempts, this effort to fix the state’s outdated probation system has been criticized by local civil rights activists. They argue that it doesn’t address the pressing issue and could make matters worse.
The probation review effort began in earnest in 2018 after Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill was out of probation. almost ten was under court supervision for years before facing lawsuits new prison sentence For probation violations that otherwise would not have resulted in a prison sentence.
The case became a high-profile example of problems with the Pennsylvania probation system. The system puts people through years of surveillance and imprisonment for non-criminal offenses such as missing calls from probation officers, failing to take drug tests, and struggling to be detected. may fall into. Provide court-ordered mental health treatment in a timely manner.
Mill’s case led to the creation of a national advocacy group, the REFORM Alliance, and was a driving force behind legislation in Pennsylvania.
Laws introduced in 2019 was initially supported of ACLU, Pennsylvania. However, subsequent negotiations and amendments led the organization to withdraw its support and rally other groups to oppose it.same thing happened in 2021.
The pattern has repeated itself this year.
Introduced on June 21, law Removes language that states judges can set probation periods to “provide court authority.” Instead, it would require courts to adjust probation according to individual circumstances. The bill also establishes a “presumption against total confinement,” which proponents say would direct judges to keep people out of prison for minor offenses.
Erin Haney, policy director at the REFORM Alliance, said current law allows judges to revoke probation and send people back to prison for almost any reason. “And what this does is create very specific cases where someone could be jailed for technical violations.”
The proposed law also provides for a schedule of review conferences where people on probation can petition for an early termination of supervision. Haney said the provision should provide a backstop for counties that don’t yet have a formal process for reviewing early termination requests.
But groups that advocate and advocate for people on probation, including the Philadelphia Bar Association and the Allegheny County Center for the Abolition of Slavery Law, said the bill passed committees and the state Senate within days. I opposed this bill.
Pennsylvania ACLU announced 7 page notes He urged lawmakers to vote against the bill, arguing that the bill “not only fails to meaningfully reform the broken probation system, but also threatens to make probation worse.”
Advocacy groups say the exceptions that allow judges to send someone back to prison are too broad and risk undermining their imprisonment obligations.
The bill also creates a new category of “administrative probation” for those who have met the conditions of probation but must pay outstanding compensation for damages caused by crime victims. will be created. The new category aims to alleviate the cumbersome check-in with probation officers that can accompany a typical sentencing.
However, ACLU Legislative Director Liz Randle said the change raises constitutional concerns because the U.S. Constitution prohibits punishment solely for failure to pay fines, costs and reparations. .
“You can call your probation whatever you want,” Randle said. “There is nothing in this bill that prevents a judge from revoking probation and imposing a new non-administrative probation period if you are on administrative probation and fail to pay.”
The House Judiciary Committee on June 29 reached a compromise between the priorities of the bill’s lead proponent, Sen. Lisa Baker (R. Lucerne), and the concerns of her supporters, Rep. He said he had approved the bill with amendments to make it easier. Briggs (D-Montgomery), Speaker of the House.
“I think the committee sent a strong message, but they didn’t consider it in the last session,” Briggs said.
The bill is ready for a vote when the state legislature returns to session, but it’s unclear when it will be voted on.Lawmakers are now working to break budget stalemate.
If the bill passes the House, it will have to return to the state Senate for a vote before seeking final approval from Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro.
https://www.spotlightpa.org/news/2023/07/pa-probation-law-meek-mill-reform-alliance/ Pennsylvania’s Meek Mill-Inspired Probation Bill Has Some Criticism Pennsylvania Spotlight