The Philadelphia District Attorney's Office continues to push for some sensible reforms to the criminal justice system. The most recent movement has been against excessive probation and parole programs in Philadelphia, which put people under scrutiny so intense that it can feel demeaning.
New Guidelines Aim to Shorten Parole and Probation Terms
The new guidelines were announced Thursday, and direct assistant district attorneys to pursue shorter post-conviction and post-release supervision terms. The guidelines recommend an average of 18 months for people who have been convicted of a felony offense, and six months for those who have been convicted of a misdemeanor. At most, the guidelines call for three years for a felony and one year for a misdemeanor.
Delay in Any Changes to Post-Release Sentencing
Of course, the guidelines are unlikely to have any impact in the short term. If implemented faithfully by prosecutors and judges, the results would only begin to manifest after several years in action – ongoing cases are unlikely to change, and changes to the terms of a probation sentence only come into effect after a new case would pass through the court system and any jail time has been served.
Additionally, the guidelines are just that – guidelines. Prosecutors still have some discretion in how to pursue criminal charges, and judges still have the final say.
Pennsylvania Near the Bottom in Post-Sentence Terms
The change to parole and probation terms, though, is badly needed in Philadelphia. Pennsylvania as a whole has the most people on probation or parole in the northeastern U.S. In the city of Philadelphia, one out of every 22 adults is under county supervision, for a total of around 42,000. Compare that to New York City – a city with far more people in it – which only has 12,700 people on probation or parole.
Excessive Probation Terms Are Demeaning and Only Backfire
The high number of Philadelphians on supervised release stems from the excessive terms that prosecutors and judges pursue and grant. In Pennsylvania, the length of a term of probation can last as long as the prison sentence. Even low-level misdemeanors can result in multiple years of jail time and probation.
Every day of that probation comes with the possibility of a slip-up that can lead to an arrest and charge for violating the terms of probation.
The stress that extended probation puts on people who are trying to get their life back on track after a prior conviction is striking: Research has even found that probation sentences that last longer than two years are less effective than those that do not.
Criminal Defense Lawyer Joseph D. Lento Serves Philadelphia
Joseph D. Lento is a criminal defense lawyer in Philadelphia who is happy to see prosecutors realize that going for the maximum punishment possible only ruins lives and tears society apart. Sensible and data-driven solutions like shorter probation terms should be the norm, not just because they reduce recidivism but because they treat prior offenders as human beings, too.
Call attorney Lento at (215) 535-5353 or contact him online if you have been charged with a crime.