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Unlimited Probation Time Causes Recidivism, ACLU Reports

Posted by Sara Cooper | Aug 18, 2023 | 0 Comments

According to the Davis Vanguard, Pennsylvania's high probation percentage is actually driving the mass incarceration problem, according to Elizabeth Randol, legislative director at ACLU of Pennsylvania, who notes the state has the “second highest percentage of its citizens on probation and parole in the country and the highest incarceration rate in the northeast.”

This important topic is brought up in accordance with a probation reform bill that had passed in the state Senate in June, which is ultimately giving people that are serving probationary sentences a way out of the justice system.

However, the ACLU is against this bill due to, “[It] would only complicate Pennsylvania's probation system and could lead to more people being sentenced to jail terms.”

With probation impacting predominantly Black, Indigenous, and people of color, this hamster wheel effect would also mean “[v]iolating probation then results in more time on probation and/or incarceration—the very outcome probation was intended to avoid in the first place,” cited by the ACLU of Pennsylvania.

Randol further explains that placing probation on people with conditions that severely difficult to complete such as reporting to an officer each week, is an automatic result of violating the probation agreement that is more than likely.

Peter Hall who writes for the Pennsylvania Capital Star mentioned in similarity that, “Pennsylvania's system can trap people on a decades-long treadmill of court supervision [that] account for more than half of all people admitted to state prison.”

Hall also recalls that the Council of State Governments Justice Center has reported that there is around 7,400 individuals in prison for probation violations that costs Pennsylvania $334 million a year.

According to the Davis Vanguard, “With 2.8 percent of the state being on probation, the second highest in the country, Randol believes these reasons among others show that a probation system with the intention to rehabilitate might be doing more damage than good.”

Randol also argues, “The bill fails to address core problems within the system, such as the lack of a limit on the length of probation terms, back-to-back probation sentences, and the common practice of sentencing offenders to prison followed by years of probation,” noting how there are many comparisons to be made with probation practices state to state.

The ACLU of Pennsylvania said “many states reduce the length of probation upon completion of educational or employment goals” but SB 838, the Pennsylvanian probation bill only allows a review conference to be held sooner.

With Randall further making the point of how having a less incentive in alliance to rehabilitation efforts, there isn't much to improve from in the position of being on probation.

The practice of achieving those goals from states, they also implement, “courts and probation officials will be able to make more efficient use of time and resources” according to Greg Rowe, the executive director of the Pennsylvania Association of District Attorneys.

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