Lawmakers and advocates outline bipartisan probation and parole reform legislation
PHILADELPHIA, April 2 – Flanked by legislators, advocates and supporters, state Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., House Democratic whip, and Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, were joined by the REFORM Alliance in outlining legislation they plan to soon introduce that would reform Pennsylvania’s parole and probation system.
“Out of all 50 states, Pennsylvania has the second highest percentage of citizens on probation and parole,” Harris said. “These lengthy probation sentences are unnecessary and only hold down people who are trying to right their lives and become productive members of society again.”
Harris and Delozier were joined by a bipartisan group of legislators, including state Reps. Stephen Kinsey, D-Phila., chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, Greg Rothman, R-Cumberland, Ed Gainey, D-Allegheny, and Mike Jones, R-York, as well as multiple advocacy groups, including The Commonwealth Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, #cut50, Justice Action Network, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Also joining Harris and Delozier was REFORM CEO, activist, author and CNN host Van Jones, REFORM co-chair and award-winning recording artist Meek Mill, and REFORM co-chair and co-owner of the Philadelphia 76ers and Fanatics Executive Chairman Michael Rubin.
“With this proposed legislation, we want to put people on probation and parole in positions to succeed – not to wind up back in prison and perpetuate an ongoing cycle,” Jones said. “I appreciate the work and time that Representatives Harris and Delozier have devoted to collaborating with the REFORM Alliance to address this bipartisan issue. This is just beginning, but there’s more work to be done.”
Pennsylvania has seen its prison population increase by approximately 850 percent over the past 40 years at a cost of $2.4 billion per year to taxpayers. A recent study of information from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections showed that nearly one-third of prison beds were occupied with people who violated terms of their probation or parole.
“This proposed bill is the first step in changing the criminal justice system and it’s only right that we start in my home state,” Mill said. “I’ve lost too much time away from my son, my family, my friends and my fans in Philadelphia because of outdated probation laws, so I want to make sure people don’t have go through what I did.”
“We believe that you can significantly reduce the number of people under community supervision while keeping communities safe and that’s what we’re looking to achieve with this proposed legislation,” Rubin said. “What happened to Meek was a travesty, but I’m thrilled that we have an opportunity to right those wrongs in our home state of Pennsylvania.”
The proposed legislation aims to remove pitfalls that plague the parole and probation system and cause people who make nonviolent mistakes to be pulled back into the criminal justice system. The changes include preventing the court from sentencing a person to consecutive sentences of probation, preventing the court from extending probation or parole due solely to nonpayment of fines and costs and creating a system of incentives that reward good behavior.
The bill would also remove testing positive for marijuana as well as leaving the jurisdiction of the court without the intent to permanently avoid supervision as parole and probation violations.
“Criminal justice reform is badly needed in Pennsylvania. In our communities, we have seen first-hand how our prison industrial system traps people — and entire families — in an endless cycle of poverty and punishment,” Gainey said. “We need to be looking at ways we can break that cycle, not perpetuate it across generations. We need to talk about hope, not hopelessness. That’s why I am supporting this legislation, which I believe is a step in the right direction, a step down a path to a criminal justice system that works with – and not against – our communities.”
“These commonsense changes are meant to bring Pennsylvania’s parole and probation system into the modern age by acknowledging that currently the system is geared to return people to prison for minor violations and that’s unacceptable,” Harris said. “Pennsylvanians deserve the opportunity to right their life and pursue educational, economic and housing opportunities, and this bipartisan legislation will help them succeed.”
Delozier and Harris have championed criminal justice reform in the Pennsylvania legislature, working in a bipartisan fashion on clean slate legislation signed into law last session. Pennsylvania’s clean slate law, which gives nonviolent offenders who have stayed out of trouble the chance to seal their criminal record from public view, has been lauded as a national model of positive criminal justice reform.