In a rare show of bipartisan support, Republicans and Democrats of the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee unanimously approved SB 913.
The intent of the proposed legislation is to “minimize punishments for technical violations of probation and allow judges to shorten probation time for good behavior or for completing certain programs,” according to an October 14 memorandum to members of the State Senate. Senators Lisa Baker (R-Luzerne), CameraBartolotta (R-Washington), and Anthony H. Williams (D-Philadelphia) wrote the memorandum to their colleagues.
“It is time to reform the probation system in Pennsylvania,” they said.
If approved by the General Assembly, Gov. Tom Wolf (D) said he would sign the comprehensive reform legislation. In a November 18, 2019, prepared statement, he said, “…our excessively long sentences and cumbersome rules are causing Pennsylvanians to lose their jobs, employers are losing much-needed workers, families are losing support systems, and taxpayer money is being wasted on a system that is not improving lives or recidivism rates.”
Good News for People on Probation
First, it is important to understand that SB 913 covers only probation, not parole. Probation is part of an original sentence. Parole is an early release from incarceration for good behavior.
SB 913 would require mandatory probation review conferences after a specified time period. The conference is for the purpose of ending or reducing probation terms. People convicted of misdemeanors would be eligible after three years. Felons might have to wait as long as five years before the law would dictate a conference, Penn Live/Patriot-News explained October 26.
Additionally, the bill stipulates term-reduction or termination credits for good behavior. The completion of a rehabilitative program such as achieving an educational degree, finishing vocational training, gaining technical certification, or successful participation in a substance abuse treatment program also can help reduce or terminate probation.
A key provision of SB 913 is protection from the revolving door of prison-to-probation-to-back-to-prison for minor, technical violations. However, the ACLU asserts SB 913 leaves the option open for a judge to revoke probation even under the expanded definition of technical parole violations, according to the PennLive analysis.
In enacted, SB 913 would become law on January 1, 2022.
SB 913 Will Be Tested in Court
If Wolf signs SB 913 into law, it will most certainly be tested in court. If you or a loved one is on probation, an experienced, criminal defense attorney like Joseph D. Lento of the Lento Law Firm might be able to help you negotiate an early reduction or termination of probation—or keep you from going back to prison—under this new law. Contact the Lento Law Firm today at 888-535-3686 for a consultation.