Smart Justice

The Smart Justice package will modernize Pennsylvania’s probation and parole system to better enable rehabilitation and reward those individuals who show they have rehabilitated by getting them out of the criminal justice system quicker – with the tools to succeed. This will reduce recidivism and help formerly incarcerated individuals avoid the technical pitfalls that keep them trapped within the system.

Pennsylvania, which has the second-highest percentage of citizens on probation or parole in the country, has seen its prison population increase by approximately 850% over the past 40 years at a cost of $2.4 billion per year to taxpayers. A recent study of information from the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections showed that nearly one-third of prison beds were occupied by people who violated terms of their probation or parole.


Removing Barriers to Success

Sometimes people make stupid mistakes in their youth, and the Clean Slate Act passed last session clears their criminal records of nonviolent offenses after 10 years without a subsequent arrest. This probation and parole modernization package will be another step forward in helping those with criminal records re-enter the workforce and strengthen our economy.

We simply can’t continue to judge people by their worst day and hold them back from enriching their lives and the lives of others due to mistakes made in the past that have no impact on someone’s ability to do a job. 

Keeping Pennsylvania Communities Safe

Putting Pennsylvania families first, House Republicans are working to keep our communities safe. While that means people who break our laws need to be held accountable, we also understand we must continue to address the root causes of crime.
Being bold, we must confront the underlying social and economic conditions that allow crime to take away our control. 

From better job opportunities and the skills to hold those jobs (#GoodJobs4PA), to removing barriers in our welfare system preventing people from getting a job, to educational opportunities, to opening doors for better drug and alcohol treatment in our prisons and in communities around the state – our priority will be to keep our communities safe for ALL Pennsylvanians. 

 

Related Legislation
 = passed in PA House


HB 440  would expunge a person’s criminal history record information when that person has been pardoned for an offense or when a judge acquits a person of all charges related to an offense. The bill also would make two changes to the Clean Slate Act. First, it would provide that a person could be entitled to Clean Slate so long as the person has paid all of the restitution owed, as well as the current fee used to maintain Clean Slate - other fines and fees would not need to be paid in advance in full. Second, regardless of being subject to Clean Slate, if the person has any subsequent sentencing proceeding, all criminal records would apply, and that willful misrepresentation of criminal records could be the subject of a contempt sanction.

HB 1477 would modernize the methods by which boards license and certify professionals with criminal records; it would provide a way for those convicted of criminal offenses not to be disqualified from holding an occupational license and set up a procedure where boards and commissions would consider certain factors, including rehabilitation and the whether the person has led a law-abiding life since the commission of the crime, in order to determine if the individual is fit for licensure. Ultimately, the bill would ensure the boards overseeing licensure for 30 occupations are using fair, consistent methods by amending the Criminal History Record Information Act.

HB 1555 would modernize the scope of probation as a criminal penalty to help reduce recidivism and help formerly incarcerated individuals avoid technical pitfalls that keep them trapped within the system. The bill would do this by imposing a cap on the length of probation and detail new procedures for shortening or ending probation. The courts would hold a probation review conference to end probation if a person completes three years of probation for a misdemeanor conviction and five years of probation for a felony conviction. (People convicted of sex crimes, crimes of violence, and crimes involving domestic violence are not included in this.) To be entitled to a conference, the person must not have been convicted of any criminal offenses while on probation and must have no technical probation violations for the 18 months immediately preceding the conference.

The bill creates incentive benchmarks to reduce the time of probation, including acquiring a GED, college degree or a vocational or occupational license. A judge may decline to terminate probation if it is found that the person poses a risk to the public or if termination would jeopardize the person’s rehabilitative needs.

The bill limits what a judge can put a person back in prison violations that are sexual in nature; involvement in assaultive behavior or possession/control of a weapon; or the defendant absconded, presents a risk to public safety, or has intentionally and without excuse failed to adhere to the conditions of his or her sentence on more than three occasions.

The legislation also allows warrantless searches as a condition of probation - with or without reasonable suspicion – in cases involving a gun, drug trafficking or sex crimes. (If we are going to reward probationers for complying with the term of their probation, we want to give our officers all the tools they can use to ensure our most risky probationers comply.)

HB 2040 would create the PA Second Chance Jobs website under the Department of Labor & Industry to provide a free and voluntary website where employers may advertise employment opportunities for former offenders.

HR 619 would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study to collect and organize data regarding historic funding and caseload levels relating to indigent criminal defense in Pennsylvania.

HR 620   would direct the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study regarding identifying and evaluating all categories of individuals authorized by state law to exercise arrest or other police powers.

HR 634  would create an inter-branch Task Force on Technical Probation Violations to review procedures throughout the Commonwealth relating to technical probation violations and to make recommendations for procedural rule changes.

SB 500 is part one of the “Justice Reinvestment Initiative” (JRI) package and would create the “County Adult Probation and Parole Advisory Committee” within the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency. The committee would look at best practices of restitution and outcomes for offenders to help counties better assess the unique risks and needs of probationers to reduce incarceration and cut costs to taxpayers. Adult probation departments across the state would be supported financially through Justice Reinvestment grants; cost savings would go back into county probation and parole.

SB 501  amends Title 42 and Title 61 to make numerous changes relating to probation, parole and other aspects of criminal sentencing. This is the second part of JRI. It would convert the county intermediate punishment sentencing option into a form of county probation, adjust the process for admission into the state intermediate punishment program and rename the program as the State Drug Treatment Program, provide for presumptive parole for certain short-term minimum sentences in state correctional institutions, amend the duties and composition (House appointees must be House members) of the PA Sentencing Commission, and add other correctional system and sentencing changes.

The bill would also strengthen restitution collections in various ways while an individual is still in jail/prison or not. Crime victims, their representative and/or family members may each testify at Probation and Parole hearings regarding possible parole. The bill includes numerous provisions to ensure that those individuals who are doing the right thing and trying to better themselves are able to get parole, while continuing supervision for those who are not doing as they should.

As part of Smart Justice, offenders who max-out their sentence (meaning not successfully going through helpful programs, ergo, not getting paroled) would no longer be released into the world without any type of supervision; a 12-month parole period would be automatically added to supervise their re-entry into the community.

Lastly, the bill would reinstate mandatory minimum sentences for offenders convicted of rape or other violent sexual offenses by an adult against a minor (age 16 or under).

SB 502 would help improve communications with crime victims and ensure they receive any compensation they are owed. This is the third part of JRI. The bill would also move administratively the Office of Victim Advocate from PBPP to DOC.

HB 44  would give corrections officers the opportunity to submit a written statement or testify in-person at parole hearings, with the stated goal being to ensure corrections officers have a voice in inmate parole proceedings.

HB 256  seeks to redefine assault on a prison staff member to reflect there is a lower threshold for an assault to occur when committed by an inmate on staff.

HB 257   would impose a mandatory five-year sentence for those convicted of staff assault, served consecutive to a prior sentence, and a $5,000 fine against the inmate’s commissary account. A technical amendment to the bill was adopted Tuesday to remove from the list of offenses that could be committed by the inmate the offense of institutional sexual assault.