A new "Smart Justice" set of bills is set to be voted on next week, consisting of ten proposals that are meant to reform the state's probation and parole system and reward formerly incarcerated individuals who have successfully been rehabilitated. The goal is to reduce recidivism, which often keeps people in an endless loop of re-entering the penal system.
“People who break our laws need to be held accountable, but we also understand we must continue to address the root causes of crime. Reforming our probation system will help those released into our communities have a better opportunity to rebuild their lives,” House Republican Majority Leader Bryan Cutler said. “This is an important way we are working to keep our communities safe.”
“We must reward those who have shown that they are rehabilitated by getting them out of the criminal justice system quicker and with fewer collateral consequences,” said Rob Kauffman, chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.
Pennsylvania has the second-highest percentage of citizens on probation or parole in the country, and has seen its prison population increase by approximately 850% over the past 40 years at a cost of $2.4 billion per year to taxpayers. A recent study of information from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections showed that nearly one-third of prison beds were occupied by people who violated terms of their probation or parole.
House Bill 1555 would reform probation by prohibiting consecutive sentences of probation. Also, a court could not impose a probationary sentence greater than five years for a felony or two years for a misdemeanor.
House Bill 440 would mandate the expungement of an individual’s record if they have been pardoned or acquitted of all charges, based on the same conduct or arising from the same alleged criminal episode. The Commonwealth would receive notice of a potential expungement and would have an opportunity to object and conduct a hearing.
House Bill 2040 would create the "Pa. Second Chance Jobs" website to provide a free and voluntary website where employers may advertise employment opportunities for former offenders.
House Bill 1477 would create a fair, modern set of rules for the consideration of criminal records in occupational and professional licensure, which will enable employers to have a new set of skilled, qualified workers.
Senate Bill 500 would establish an advisory committee on adult county probation within the Pa. Commission on Crime and Delinquency, establish Justice Reinvestment grants, and reinvest cost savings into county probation and parole.
Senate Bill 501 would incorporate the county intermediate punishment program into county probation, rename the state intermediate punishment program as the state drug treatment program, provide for presumptive parole for certain short-term minimum sentences in state correctional institutions, amend the duties of the Pa. Sentencing Commission and add other correctional system and sentencing changes commonly known as “Justice Reinvestment Initiative 2.”
In addition, minimum mandatory sentencing guidelines would be imposed for crimes against children, and there would be a mandatory 12-month period of re-entry parole supervision for inmates who “max out” on their sentences and thus would otherwise be subject to release without any supervision.
Senate Bill 502 would make changes to the Crime Victims Act regarding victims’ rights, the responsibilities of agencies that deal with victims, and crime victim compensation.
House Resolution 619 would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study to collect and organize data regarding historic funding and caseloads relating to indigent criminal defense in Pennsylvania.
House Resolution 620 would direct the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study regarding identification and evaluation of all categories of individuals authorized by state law to exercise arrest or other police powers.
House Resolution 634 would establish the Task Force on Technical Probation Violations.
“We remain committed to keeping our families safe,” Speaker of the House Mike Turzai said. “And one of the best ways to achieve this is to reduce recidivism by helping those who served their time transition to civilian life and find a good job. These bills will help us accomplish this.”