Calling Pa. laws ‘antiquated,’ bipartisan group pushes parole reform

A bipartisan group of lawmakers and others announces a new bill aimed at reforming Pennsylvania's probation and parole systems. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

A bipartisan group of lawmakers and others announces a new bill aimed at reforming Pennsylvania's probation and parole systems. (Katie Meyer/WITF)

A group of state lawmakers is launching a proposal to make several major changes to Pennsylvania’s probation and parole laws.

Unlike many efforts in Harrisburg, it’s bipartisan.

Supporters are touting the measure as both a human rights issue for people on long-term probation and a way to save the state money on prison costs.

Under current law, Pennsylvania doesn’t limit possible probation length or additional time in state or county prisons for violating probation.

Plus, judges can tack on probation time for perceived courtroom violations, or if defendants can’t pay restitution.

Philadelphia Democrat Anthony Williams and Beaver County Republican Camera Bartolotta are co-sponsoring a bill they say would change all that.

“While the prison population is decreasing, those individuals who are now on parole are increasing,” Williams said. “The consequences of them being on parole, and the manner in which parole is enforced is antiquated and needs guidelines.”

Bartolotta noted, 30 other states already have such guidelines, in one form or another, to “ensure minor probation violations do not result in new sentences not matching the crime.”

The proposal would cap Pennsylvania’s at three years for misdemeanors, while felonies would get five.

It’s part of a larger, increasingly bipartisan effort to keep people out of jail and make Pennsylvania’s prison system cheaper.

A press conference announcing the bill’s introduction was also attended by representatives from the American Civil Liberties Union and the conservative Commonwealth Foundation.

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