This month, I had the opportunity to testify before the Pennsylvania House of Representatives Judiciary Committee to support a package of bills that will support the successful implementation of reforms to our probation and parole system as well as better providing for the restoration of victims of crime. With the second-highest percentage of its citizens on probation and parole in the country and the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast, the Keystone State cannot delay these reforms.
We believe that every person has the ability to do extraordinary things. However, to the detriment of the person, their community and society as a whole, some individuals have barriers in their lives that keep them from realizing their full potential. When people make poor choices, they should own up to them and pay the fine or do the time. However, we should not make it more difficult for them to move on with their lives.
A key part of reducing Pennsylvania’s overincarceration epidemic is ensuring that our parole and probation system are more effective at setting our citizens up for successful re-entry. In 2016, over half of state prison admissions were for probation and parole revocations as opposed to new crimes. This is an appalling failure rate—Pennsylvania needs to critically evaluate how it spends its community corrections resources and better tailor its parole and probation policies to provide maximum support to those at highest risk of recidivism who need the most support to achieve the maximum effectiveness from the limited resources available. The reforms in this package are an important step in that direction.
SB 501 will make Pennsylvania’s community supervision system more effective by expanding the use of risk-and-needs assessments to better individualize the supervision and resources directed towards individual parolees and probationers. Not everyone on probation or parole needs the same level of supervision, particularly at different points of the process. Our communities our safer and our taxpayers better off, when parole and probation officers can concentrate on those in need of the greatest supervision to successfully complete their supervision.
SB 500 creates the County Adult Probation and Parole Advisory Committee, which will oversee grants to implement probation and parole reforms. The advisory committee SB 500 creates will issue grants to help counties implement holistic community supervision programs to serve the more than a quarter million Pennsylvanians on parole or probation. The advisory committee will assist counties in developing funding formulas and program plans to effectively implement the reforms of SB 501. The committee will also place higher grant priority towards counties with larger numbers of high risk-and-needs individuals. In addition to helping implement effective community supervision reforms.
SB 502 expands services to help ensure victims of crime are supported and made whole—something Americans for Prosperity recognizes as an important component of an effective criminal justice system. The bill increases the time period a crime victim can file for compensation from two to three years and clarifies eligibility rules so that victims can apply as long as they report crimes within 72 hours of their discovery, not merely their commission. The bill also expands the scope of people affected by crime who can pursue compensation, such as those who lose financial support due to the death of another crime victim to apply.
A well-functioning criminal justice system should restore those who have been wronged by crime. It should also give the 95% of those serving sentences who will return to society the best possible opportunities to rehabilitate themselves, contribute to their communities, and reach their full potential. By tackling probation, parole, and victim’s restoration, Senate Bills 500, 501, and 502 comprise a comprehensive component of the essential continuation of Pennsylvania’s Justice Reinvestment efforts.
This package was passed unanimously in the Senate, as was the initial Justice Reinvestment Initiative package of bills six years ago. Good policy reforms like this should be bipartisan, as well as supported by organizations all across the political spectrum.
Get ahold of your state house member today. You can find more information about this important package of bills on Twitter @AFPPennsylvania, Facebook.com/fightback and on our website at americansforprosperity.org. I’m Anna McCauslin Deputy State Director with Americans for Prosperity Pennsylvania.