HARRISBURG – The Senate has approved a bipartisan bill to improve Pennsylvania’s probation system by addressing serious flaws that have trapped nonviolent offenders in a cycle of incarceration without improving public safety, according to Senate Majority Leader Jake Corman (R-34).
“With this action, we are making an effort to stop the probation-to-prison revolving door that separates people from their families, jobs and communities for minor offenses,” Corman said.
“Today we take steps to reward good behavior and matching offenses to the punishment so we are rehabilitating offenders and rebuilding our communities.”
Senate Bill 14 would help to ensure the probation system ultimately serves as a pathway out of the criminal justice system. Under the bill, courts would have stronger guidelines and restrictions on imposing new sentences of incarceration on probationers.
Incarceration would be reserved for individuals convicted of new crimes and more serious technical violations. The bill also creates incentives for probationers to succeed through credits for good behavior, such as maintaining a job and performing community services.
Currently, technical violations that are not actual crimes – such as being late for an appointment, traveling out of state or being unable to pay fines and restitution – can lead to extensions of probation or prison time that far exceed the original sentence handed down at trial.
The cost to incarcerate these individuals is far greater than the cost of supervision, resulting in wasted taxpayer dollars without any benefit in terms of public safety.
The bill also creates a mandatory probation review conference after three years for misdemeanor convictions or five years for felony convictions, with a presumption that probation will be terminated unless the individual does not qualify.
The review could occur earlier based on the good conduct of probationers and on the achievement of educational, employment and other goals.