Pennsylvania

Pennsylvania lawmakers work together to reform probation system

Both Democrats and Republicans seek to cap the length of probation sentences

HARRISBURG, Pa. (WKBN) - The Pennsylvania governor and even state lawmakers have talked about making changes in the criminal justice system.

Now, a new bill introduced in the Pennsylvania Senate aims to do that by reforming the state's probation system.

"Corrections reform is about improving public safety and investing in people, not simply funding prisons," said Stephen Bloom, vice president of the conservative Commonwealth Foundation.

Bloom says the state's current probation system is long overdue for a change, with nearly 74,000 people on probation in Pennsylvania in 2015.

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

"An individual who receives a traffic violation should not receive a prison sentence just because that violation occurred while they were on probation," said Senator Camera Bartolotta (R).

Which is why Bartolotta is joining other lawmakers -- Democrats and Republicans -- to introduce Senate Bill 14. It limits the length of probation sentences, imposing a maximum of three years for misdemeanors and five years for felonies.

"Thirty other states have already responsibly put a cap on probation sentences," Bartolotta said.

The bill makes sure probation cannot be extended for failure to pay fees, fines or restitution. It also allows for reduced probation for good behavior.

"Allowing more people to get off probation if they are productive members of our society," said Senator Anthony Williams (D), the bill's sponsor.

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

"It'll save us money and it will provide a higher quality of justice to each and every Pennsylvanian," said Senator Sharif Street (D), one of the bill's co-sponsors.


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