Advancing Justice and Public Safety – Probation Reform and Clean Slate 3.0 are Law!

House Democrats are delivering for Pennsylvanians.

House Democrats are delivering for Pennsylvanians.

Several new laws were passed in December that my colleagues and I had championed for years, including measures to reform our state’s outdated probation system, expand opportunities for people to have their criminal records sealed, recruit new police officers, and invest in legal representation for people who cannot afford it.

Probation reform.

Pennsylvania is a place for second chances, but for too long our state’s probation system was a revolving door of probation to prison that trapped many neighbors in a cycle of imprisonment – even for minor technical violations of probation. On any given day, 75,000 people are incarcerated for minor technical violations of probation or parole, which is unfair to the individual and needlessly bloats our correctional population.

Now, a newly signed law refocuses our probation system on helping Pennsylvanians avoid incarceration for minor technical violations so they stay on the right path. And instead of generic guidance deciding the penalty for a technical probation violation, the new law empowers judges to consider a person’s individual challenges and needs when setting probation conditions as well as their ability to pay fines and restitution.

It also requires mandatory probation reviews sooner and incentivizes the opportunity for early termination for people who maintain employment or pursue education while on probation.

These reforms will go a long way toward making Pennsylvania’s probation system more just.

Clean Slate 3.0.

Clean Slate 3.0 makes low-level, non-violent drug felonies with a maximum sentence of 30 months eligible for automated sealing. This measure builds on two prior rounds of Clean Slate, which have already sealed 40 million cases and are improving the lives of 1.2 million Pennsylvanians and their families.

By having their records sealed, these Pennsylvanians can improve their quality life by securing safe housing and employment and pursuing educational opportunities that are unavailable to people with criminal records.

Boosting Police Officer Recruitment.

A shortage of police officers in Philadelphia and other communities is driving new ideas about recruitment, because having enough officers is an important piece to our public safety puzzle, and getting the right person in uniform starts with recruiting.

A new law will expand the pool of eligible applicants who can protect their communities by updating antiquated standards used to assess candidates for the police academy. These outdated standards have made recruiting municipal police officers more difficult statewide.

These measures will make a difference in having enough law enforcement officers in our communities to reduce the burden on our current officers and help keep our communities safe.

Legal Representation.

As a former public defender, I know how important it is to have representation in the courtroom. In fact, the right to a defense, even if you can’t afford an attorney, is so critical to our justice system that it is enshrined in our federal and state constitutions.

Navigating the justice system without an attorney is complicated, and ineffective counsel not only hurts the accused, but drains resources and burdens the legal system with delays. But making public defenders available can improve fairness and drive reform in the justice system.

Until now only two states - Pennsylvania and South Dakota - didn’t provide funding to help offer defense to low-income people. Here in PA, the burden fell to our 67 counties, which created a wide disparity in the quality of defense that could be offered. However, this year’s state budget directed $7.5 million to fund indigent defense. This funding will be provided to counties as grants and are meant to supplement, not replace, the funding the county already budgets.

All of these new laws are good news for the commonwealth and will strengthen public safety and communities.

PA Speaker of the House Joanna McClinton represents the 191st District, which includes portions of Philadelphia and Delaware County.