The state of probation reform in Pennsylvania

ACLU of Pennsylvania
4 min readJan 24, 2020

by Ian Pajer-Rogers

Following the path of legislation in the Pennsylvania General Assembly can be a dizzying experience. There are committee votes and amendments and procedural maneuvers and more amendments and odd terms like “third consideration” and “marked calendar.”

And after watching advocates push for probation reform in the commonwealth over the past year, only to see the ACLU of Pennsylvania drop its support for a version of the bill which was amended to actually make our probation system worse, one can understandably be confused by what is going on here.

As they say, this is how the sausage gets made.

In both chambers of the state legislature, there are bills that would reform our broken probation system. House Bill 1555, originally a strong package of reforms, was gutted by committee amendment just before the start of the holiday season. The amended bill would actually take Pennsylvania backwards in terms of reforming probation and has provisions that are unconstitutional. As a result, we pulled our support for HB1555.

You can urge your state representative to oppose HB1555 here.

Senate Bill 14, on the other hand, still includes provisions that would achieve meaningful reform by capping the length of probation terms, codifying terms for early release from supervision, and more. You can contact your state senator and urge them to support SB14 here.

Bold action to address Pennsylvania’s mass incarceration crisis must include lessening the burden of mass supervision on our communities. Pennsylvania not only bears the shameful dishonor of having the highest rate of incarceration in the Northeast, but we also have the second-highest rate of individuals under community supervision (probation and parole) in the entire country. With nearly 300,000 individuals on probation or parole, supervision is the single biggest driver of mass incarceration in the commonwealth. There is an urgent moral obligation to pass probation reform this session.

Most states place reasonable limits on the terms of probation — five years for a felony and three years or less for a misdemeanor. In Pennsylvania, however, probation can last decades. We are one of a small number of states where…

ACLU of Pennsylvania

We are the ACLU’s Pennsylvania affiliate, defending the Constitution and the Bill of Rights through litigation, advocacy, and community education and outreach.