Pennsylvania Probation and Parole Frequently Asked Questions

When you are charged with a crime, you hope that the state will drop the charges or that they will find you innocent. But, sometimes, despite the best defense, the judge or jury will still find you guilty of the crime, or because of insurmountable evidence, you must take a plea deal. During sentencing, a defendant will either be placed on probation or sent to jail for a specific period of time, after which, they will be paroled. Society tends to use probation and parole as interchangeable terms, which can lead to confusion. If you or someone you love has been placed on probation or is up for their parole hearing soon, you must contact a criminal attorney to be present at either of these hearings. Criminal attorneys have the knowledge and skills to mitigate the length and severity of both sentences. Attorney Joseph D. Lento has years of experience helping Pennsylvania offenders fight not only their criminal charges but also lessen the stringent nature of their probation or parole orders.

What is the Difference Between Parole and Probation in Pennsylvania?

Criminal justice experts say that it is better to reintroduce convicted criminals back into society by ensuring that they are under supervision for a set period of time. Both probation and parole entail periods with supervision, but they are very different sentences. One shortens prison time, and the other avoids it altogether.

When a judge places a defendant on probation, it usually means they do not have to serve any time in jail or prison. In some instances, there is an exception to this rule called a "split sentence," where the defendant serves a sentence in prison, and then the court releases them onto probation. Offenders placed on probation have to comply with stringent rules and constraints.

Alternatively, if an offender goes to prison to serve their sentence and is given the opportunity to leave prison early to serve out the remainder of their sentence outside of prison, this is called parole. The Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency states that parole is a provisional release from prison that only occurs once an offender has served their minimum sentence or anytime after, but before they serve the entire maximum sentence. It should also be noted that not all sentences will allow for the chance of parole.

When is an offender eligible for parole?

There is no right to parole in Pennsylvania. But, every offender who receives a state sentence with a minimum sentence date will be reviewed for parole at least 4 months before that date. If the parole board approves the offender for parole, they can be released on or after that minimum sentence date. Offenders serving life or execution sentences are not eligible for parole.

What is the difference between county and state sentences?

In Pennsylvania, a prison sentence must have a minimum and a maximum time frame. A state sentence is a prison sentence with a maximum of two or more years. The Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole oversees the parole and supervision of state sentenced offenders. On the other hand, a county sentence has a maximum sentence of two years minus one day or less. The sentencing judge will grant parole for county sentences, and then the county parole officer will supervise the offender going forward.

How often is an offender seen while on probation or parole?

The frequency of visits between the parole officer or the probation officer and the offender is contingent upon the individual, their current or past behavior, and their background. The officer will determine the frequency and make sure to meet with the offender as often as the court orders.

What are the typical types of probation programs?

Depending on the offender's background and the circumstances of the crime they committed, their probation sentence can look very different from another offender's. There are five types of probation in Pennsylvania, all with different fee requirements and punishments if they violate them.

Intensive Supervision Program

The Intensive Supervision Probation program includes rigid supervision standards. The offender must obey the strict conditions of probation, like in house arrest, but they don't have to stay home. Usually, the program requires 8-12 meetings a month and in-person and telephone contact with their probation officer 24/7 (as the officer decides).

Shock Program

This program is a hybrid program that came about in the late 1990s. The offenders are first required to serve a short sentence in jail or prison and then released on probation. The idea is to shock the offender into obeying the terms of their probation. Usually, the jail or prison term only lasts about 30 days, and when they are released, the court will place them on the normal standard supervised probation program to serve out the rest of their sentence.

Community Control

Community control is a jail sentence you serve outside of prison. It is the strictest form of probation because you are monitored 24/7, with a GPS ankle tracker, and ordered on house arrest. The offender is unable to leave their home and has to abide by other specific requirements.

Supervised Probation

Here, an offender is must meet with their probation officer, either weekly or monthly, by phone or in person. They must also follow rigid guidelines set by the court during their probation sentence. These offenders may be drug tested, ordered to attending counseling, mandated to complete community service, or other requirements (which will depend on the crime committed). If an offender violates their supervised probation, they will be sent to jail immediately.

Unsupervised / Non-Reporting Probation

Courts generally offer this type of probation to low-risk offenders. Typically, they ask the offender to pay their fines and not commit any further illegal acts during probation. There is no supervision with this type of probation. The judge may also order a suspended jail sentence, which is basically a delay in the offender's punishment's sentencing. The sentence can be completely avoided as long as the offender pays their fines and stays out of trouble during probation.

What agencies conduct drug, alcohol, or mental health evaluations?

Some of the parole conditions or probation conditions may require that the offender attend drug and alcohol or mental health screenings. Your probation or parole officer will have a list of appropriate agencies, but an up-to-date list can be found at www.ddap.pa.gov.

Why can't an offender leave PA without permission?

When an individual is under supervision, they have fewer rights than a non-convicted individual living in society. Therefore, traveling outside of Pennsylvania is not a right, but if the offender gives the parole officer sufficient notice, they may be permitted to travel.

Why is an offender charged a supervision fee?

According to Act 1991-35, an offender is charged at least $25 as a supervision fee to help cover the parole or probation officer's duties, like their equipment and office space. This fee also lessens the burden on taxpayers.

What happens if you violate your probation?

If you violate your probation, you will be subject to further punishment, unfortunately. There are usually two causes for probation violations in Pennsylvania: technical violations or the offender was charged with committing a new crime

Technical Probation Violations

In Pennsylvania, a technical probation violation occurs when the offender disregards the judge's stipulations on their probation contract. Probation is essentially a contract you make with the court that says you will follow specific terms and conditions if the court allows you to serve your sentence under supervision outside of jail or prison. The most common ways an offender can violate their probation include:

  • Neglecting to contact their supervising probation officer when they are supposed to.
  • Failing a drug test.
  • Forgetting to tell their probation officer of a move or job change.
  • Quitting your job or school.
  • Not finishing mandatory drug or alcohol treatment.
  • Neglecting to pay their fines, probation fees, or restitution.

Probation Violations for Committing Another Crime While on Probation

If an offender is on probation, the state expects them to be on their best behavior and staying out of trouble. Therefore, if they commit another crime while on probation, their supervising officer can arrest them on the spot. If this happens, the offender has a legal right to a probation violation hearing within two days of the arrest. The offender also has a right to have an attorney advocate on their behalf during this hearing. After the hearing, the judge can change their original probation order, adding stricter terms or revoking it altogether and forcing the offender to serve the remainder of their sentence in jail.

Any criminal act, even if it's a minor offense, or totally different from the original crime, or even if the probationer is just accused of, but not charged with, the new act, can violate their probation contract.

What are the consequences of a probation violation?

During the probation violation hearing, a judge will decide what type of penalties the probationer will face. They will generally consider such elements as the circumstances of the violation, the seriousness of the new crime or technical violation, and if this is the offender's first violation or if they have had prior probation violations. Depending on the crime committed or the technical violation, some of the possible outcomes of an offender's probation violation hearing are:

  • Full revocation of their probation – they will now serve their original sentence in jail instead.
  • Revocation of their probation and a new sentence, which can go up to the original crime's statutory maximum.
  • Original probation sentence can be lengthened.
  • Ordered to perform community service.
  • Compulsory drug rehabilitation or other court-ordered treatment.
  • A revision of their probation's conditions.

Judges can withdraw probation agreements for any violation, but a skilled attorney may be able to argue for a modification of the probation rather than an outright revocation. Additionally, any breach of your probation can have long-lasting consequences for your life – you may be unable to attend school, lose your job, or forfeit your place to live.

What happens if you violate your parole?

In Pennsylvania, there are two ways to violate your parole, and just like with probation, they are: committing a new crime or a technical violation.

Parolees who commit a new crime will be kept in jail under a board warrant (the PA Board of Probation and Parole has issued a warrant for the parolee's arrest under their specific jurisdiction). The offender will stay in jail until the new charges are resolved. If the new charge is a violent crime, the parole board will revoke the time the offender spent out in society – meaning their sentence will need to be recalculated. The parole board has to decide whether to rescind this time for offenders who commit non-violent crimes.

For individuals sent back to prison, they will have to stay there until they complete the original offense's maximum sentence. For instance, if the offender served their minimum five-year prison sentence, which had a maximum ten-year sentence, and then while out on parole for two-years, committed another crime, and the parole board revokes the two-years they spent on parole, the board would remand the offender to prison to serve out the rest of the original ten-year sentence (i.e., another five years).

For offenders who violate their parole conditions, but not by committing a new crime, may face prison time. Technical violations of parole can include missing curfew, relocating without consent, or having unsanctioned contact with the victims of their crimes. The parole board will consider the extent of the violation and determine whether they should be sent back to prison, sent to a treatment program like rehab, or have new limits set on their freedom. Furthermore, the board may send some parolees to a Parole Violation Center to serve 60 to 120 days. If they want to return home, they have to finish the program in the required time-period successfully. If they don't, the board will send them back to prison.

What is Pennsylvania Probation and Parole Reform – SB-14?

In Pennsylvania, the parole and probation system is quite strict. They allow for probation sentences to be stacked. For instance, if the court convicts an individual of two misdemeanors, the court can sentence them to four years of probation for both crimes and serve eight years on probation. This probation stacking is in contrast to other states, allowing probationers to serve their probation sentences concurrently.

SB-14, if passed, will reform how long probationers in Pennsylvania stay on probation and how long they serve in prison for violating their probation. The bill would give courts the permission to allow a probationer the ability to temporarily leave the jurisdiction of the court. The probationer is still expected to comply with their supervising requirements. But if the court finds a specific and foreseeable reason that the offender should not leave the court's jurisdiction – like the offender will run off, cause harm to themselves or others, or commit another crime – then they do not have to let them leave.

Additionally, SB-14 would forbid the court from extending probation terms or imposing sanctions for probationers who neglected to pay a fine or fee because they were unable to. It would also ban the courts' ability to send offenders to prison for violating probation unless the person was convicted of a new crime that warranted prison time. Further, the bill sets specific guidelines for how long judges can sentence probationers for technical violations of their probation; lays out specific guidelines for mandatory probation review conferences; and when the court must terminate probation.

How a Pennsylvania Criminal Attorney Can Help

Individuals who are accused of violating their parole or probation in Pennsylvania may face several harsh consequences, including additional prison time. Having a skilled attorney on your side can ensure the court upholds your due process rights. An attorney will also work hard to gather evidence and witnesses who can attest to your alleged technical violation or supposed commitment of a new crime. At the Lento Law Firm, attorney Joseph D. Lento and his team have extensive experience in the Pennsylvania criminal justice system. They know how to speak to judges, the supervising probation or parole officer, and the parole board to advocate for your rights. Their attorneys may be able to get your violation sentence dropped, or at the very least mitigated, depending on the circumstances. You've already served time, don't let a technical violation or a case of improper identification be the thing that sends you back to jail or prison. You have rights; let attorney Joseph D. Lento and the Lento Law Firm help. Call 888-535-3686 today to set up your consultation.

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Attorney Joseph D. Lento has more than a decade of experience successfully resolving clients' criminal charges in Philadelphia and the Pennsylvania counties. If you are having any uncertainties about what the future may hold for you or a loved one, contact the Lento Law Firm today! Criminal defense attorney Joseph D. Lento will go above and beyond the needs of any client, and will fight until the final bell rings.

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