PA senators propose reform of state’s probation policies

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Two Pennsylvania senators have introduced legislation to reform the state’s criminal justice system by updating probation policies.

Senate Bill 14 would set a maximum probation term of three years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies.

“Thirty other states have already responsibly put a cap on probation sentences to ensure that minor probation violations do not result in new sentences not matching the crime,” said Republican state Sen. Camera Bartolotta.

Bartolotta and Democratic state Sen. Anthony Williams are sponsoring the measure. Bartolotta said probation terms can far exceed the original sentence handed down at trial and create indefinite periods during which even a minor violation could result in re-confinement.

“An individual who receives a traffic violation should not receive a prison sentence just because that violation occurred while they were on probation,” Bartolotta said.

The proposal would prohibit extended probation terms for failure to pay fees, fines, or restitution. Terms could be reduced for good behavior.

Stephen Bloom, vice president of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation, says the state’s current probation system is long overdue for a change. Nearly 74,000 people in Pennsylvania were on probation in 2015.

“Many because they simply got tangled up in administrative red tape,” Bloom said.

Pennsylvania spends about $200 million a year to incarcerate people for probation violations. Supporters of the bill hope it can help close that revolving door.

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