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Sentencing Reform Advocates Say Pennsylvania is Paying Too Much for a Failing System

Van Jones, a political analyst with CNN, recently echoed the voices of many probation and parole reform activists in Pennsylvania when he said the system “is actually making it harder for people to get on their feet and get on with their lives.”

There have been many critics who have long said the state’s probation and parole system is not only ineffective and prevents people from moving forward, but that it also costs the state too much money.

The argument for changes to Pennsylvania probation and parole

According to Jones and other critics of the state’s system, far too many people in Pennsylvania are sent back to prison on technicalities or other minor infractions while on probation and parole. Sometimes they’re imprisoned again for something as simple as being late to a meeting with a probation officer. This can result in losing jobs and apartments and being sent back into a cycle where it becomes extremely difficult for them to rebuild their lives outside of prison.

Pennsylvania also has some of the longer caps on probation periods in the nation. The probation terms can run the maximum length of the sentence. There has been some movement in the state legislature toward capping probation terms at five years for felonies and two years for misdemeanors.

As advocates in favor of sentencing reform rightly note, the goal of probation and parole should be to put people into a situation where they’re able to be supervised and supported as they try to turn their lives around. The purpose should not be to find ways to get offenders back into prison. In an ideal world, everyone who goes through probation would do so without incident and would never be sent to prison (or back to prison).

If bipartisan legislature for sentencing reform reaches Governor Tom Wolf’s desk, it is seen as likely that he will sign it.

For more information about potential sentencing reform in Pennsylvania, contact experienced Reading, PA criminal defense lawyer David R. Eshelman.


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