By The Council of State Governments Justice Center Staff
Pennsylvania has the highest rate of people on parole in the country and a ballooning probation population, but three Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) bills that passed the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee earlier this month could change that.
These bills, part of a larger effort to reform probation and parole in Pennsylvania, are backed by Governor Tom Wolf and have bipartisan support, with at least 15 co-sponsors for each bill. Together, the three JRI bills aim to improve sentencing practices and reduce recidivism while upholding public safety.
- Senate Bill (SB) 500 would form a county adult probation and parole advisory committee to distribute state funding to improve county-run probation systems in order to lower recidivism. The bill would also create a Justice Reinvestment fund to accumulate and reinvest savings realized from policies in SB 501.
- SB 501 would create a more efficient process for placing people in substance addiction treatment programs and other intermediate sanction programs in lieu of incarceration. In addition, the bill would streamline the parole process for people serving time in prison for nonviolent offenses.
- SB 502 would increase law enforcement officers’ and prosecutors’ communication with victims of crime to ensure that victims are informed of their right to compensation and how to receive it.
Pennsylvania successfully used a JRI approach in 2012 to make changes to parole and embarked on a second round in 2015 to build on prior efforts and address current challenges related to costs, supervision, and recidivism. SB 500, 501, and 502 stemmed from that effort and, if enacted, are expected to lower the prison population by an estimated 640 people by 2023 and save the state more than $44 million. Nearly half of these savings would be reinvested in improvements to the criminal justice system, including county probation.
The bills will next be heard in the Senate Appropriations Committee before heading to the full Senate. The Senate Judiciary Committee will also consider SB 14, which is not a result of JRI but would shorten the permissible lengths of probation sentences and limit revocations for violations of supervision that are not new crimes.