URGENT! Call your state representative TODAY and urge them to vote NO on SB 838!
Pennsylvania’s probation system has long been in desperate need of reform. But instead of offering meaningful change, legislators are ramming through a flawed and broken bill masquerading as "reform."
Legislators are expected to vote on WEDNESDAY (9/27) on SB 838. If it passes, it will move quickly to the governor for his signature!
Probation was originally intended to serve as an alternative to incarceration, but Pennsylvania's broken probation system is driving our mass incarceration problem.
PA’s probation system operates like a hamster wheel, where people get re-sentenced on the same offense over and over again by making them spend years under burdensome conditions, until they inevitably violate one or more of those conditions. Violating probation then results in more time on probation and/or or incarcerated—the very outcome probation was intended to avoid in the first place.
SB 838 fails to reform any of the structural problems that plague Pennsylvania’s probation system. In fact, it would amend current law in ways that risk making probation worse in Pennsylvania, specifically:
- SB 838 would create "debtors' probation," allowing judges to keep people trapped on probation who cannot afford to pay restitution, creating an entire class of people who are at the mercy of the state simply because they are too poor to buy their freedom;
- SB 838 would make it easier for judges to revoke probation and incarcerate someone who has broken a rule of their probation, rules which are otherwise not crimes for anyone else;
- SB 838 excludes defense counsel from all probation review proceedings, violating constitutional due process protections by allowing new conditions to be added to probation without so much as a hearing and without notice to counsel or representation by counsel; and
- SB 838 would require that victims receive a defendant's probation status report, which often includes confidential and protected personal information, such as updates on treatment progress or custody arrangements. Furthermore, SB 838 would invite victims to provide "input" on a person's probation status report, granting victims an unprecedented opportunity to derail early terminations of probation.
SB 838 squanders a rare opportunity to meaningfully improve probation in Pennsylvania while threatening to exacerbate the problems that drive its dysfunction. When it comes to probation, we can’t make the system worse and call it reform.
Please call your state rep now and ask them to please VOTE NO on SB 838!
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For more information, please see the joint statement from 50 Pennsylvania-based organizations opposing SB 838.