Pennsylvania’s state Senate on Tuesday approved legislation that is designed to reduce the number of people on probation and in jail, by limiting the length of probation and preventing people from being sent back to jail for minor violations.
The bill passed on a 45-4 vote and now goes to the House of Representatives, where two similar Senate bills have died without votes in previous legislative sessions. However, with the House now controlled by Democrats, the bill’s backers said they were optimistic that it will reach Democratic Gov. Josh Shapiro’s desk.
Sen. Anthony Williams, D-Philadelphia, said the state’s probation system is in urgent need of reform.
“I can’t tell you how many generations of people have been lost to the probation process,” he said during floor debate.
The case of rapper Meek Mill helped shine a light on it after he spent most of his adult life on probation — including stints in jail for technical violations — before a court overturned his conviction in a drug and gun case in Philadelphia.’
The Pennsylvania state Capitol is seen on Dec. 14, 2020, in Harrisburg. The Pennsylvania state Senate has approved legislation aimed at reducing the number of people on probation and in jail. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum, File)
The bill aims to limit the length of probation sentences and the circumstances under which a non-violent offender on probation can be sent to jail. It does not, however, put a cap on the length of a probation sentence.
Probation would be required to end unless the defendant commits a crime that demonstrates that they are a threat to public safety, has not completed certain treatment or has not paid restitution under some circumstances.
The bill also prohibits courts from extending someone’s probation for not paying fines or court costs if they are found to be unable to afford it.s or court costs if they are found to be unable to afford it.