PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION RESOLUTION IN SUPPORT OF REFORMING PENNSYLVANIA’S PROBATION SYSTEM
WHEREAS, the Philadelphia Bar Association has a long-standing commitment to fairness and equality in the criminal justice system and working towards ending the mass incarceration crisis in Pennsylvania;
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania has the second-highest percentage of its citizens under probation or parole anywhere in the United States;
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania has the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast and one of the highest rates of incarceration anywhere in the world;
WHEREAS, probation drives mass incarceration in Pennsylvania as people charged with violations of supervision fill our state prisons and people held on probation detainers fill our county jails;
WHEREAS, forty-four other states cap the total amount of time a person can be sentenced to a term of probation but, in Pennsylvania, the length of probation that a court can impose at sentencing is limited only in that it cannot exceed the statutory maximum period of possible incarceration for the offense;
WHEREAS, in Philadelphia one out of every thirty-five Philadelphians is under supervision;
WHEREAS, in August of 2019 in Philadelphia alone, 2,760 people were held on detainers in our county jail, comprising 56.9% of Philadelphia’s entire jail population;
WHEREAS, probation comes with onerous supervisory conditions, such as paying supervision fees, finding and maintaining employment, undergoing repeated and random drug testing, opening one’s home to random searches, maintaining a strict curfew, and limitations on both traveling and interacting with certain individuals;
WHEREAS, Pennsylvanians on probation face the potential of life-long supervision for low-level crimes, resentenced two, three, four, or five times over for infractions, including missing a probation appointment, falling behind on payments, or testing positive for marijuana, often resulting in the loss of a job, housing, educational opportunities, and even children;
WHEREAS, Pennsylvania’s probation system routinely punishes poverty, mental illness, and addiction and is virtually ungoverned by law or policy, resulting in wildly disparate versions of justice from one courtroom to the next;
WHEREAS, research and studies have demonstrated that lengthy probation sentences are unnecessary and may actually undermine public safety1;
WHEREAS, in response to the unequal, ineffective, costly, and overly punitive probation system in Pennsylvania, a diverse and broadly bipartisan coalition of organizations has coalesced to advocate changes to the system;
WHEREAS, some probationers benefit from judicial oversight, judges should have the ability to extend probation in limited circumstances;
WHEREAS, to balance the substantial damage done by unnecessary and punitively long probation periods, probations should be allowed to extend beyond a limited time only for good cause as demonstrated by the sentencing judge.
NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED, that the Philadelphia Bar Association urges members of the General Assembly to enact legislation that would, at a minimum, limit the amount of time a person may be sentenced to probation; limit the time served in prison for probation violations, prohibit the incarceration of probationers, or the extension of their probation, for nonpayment of fines, costs, or restitution if they cannot afford to pay; and limit “technical violations”—violations of probation conditions that would otherwise not be crimes.
AND BE IT FURTHER RESOLVED, that the Chancellor and/or the Chancellor’s designee(s) shall communicate the Philadelphia Bar Association’s position to the General Assembly, the legal profession, the media, and the public, and to take such other action as necessary to effectuate this resolution.
PHILADELPHIA BAR ASSOCIATION
BOARD OF GOVERNORS
ADOPTED: March 26, 2020
1 Lengthy probation sentences are unnecessary and may actually harm public safety. Several studies have demonstrated that after one to two years probation is no longer effective because the behavior that tends to result in probation failure typically occur in the first twelve months. See e.g. Vincent Schiraldi, The Pennsylvania Community Corrections Story, THE COLUMBIA JUSTICE LAB (August 2018); Kelly Lyn Mitchell, It’s Time to Rethink Probation in Minnesota, THE ROBINA INSTITUTE OF CRIMINAL LAW AND CRIMINAL JUSTICE,(January 13, 2017) (citing James Austin, Reducing America’s Correctional Populations: A Strategic Plan, 12 Justice Research Policy 9, 35 (2010) (there is no evidence that extending or reducing the period of probation impacts recidivism, and that most supervision failures occur within the first 12 months)). Lengthy probation sentences do not reduce recidivism and may instead act as a disincentive for probationers to engage in rehabilitative programming. Is. Moreover, onerous probation conditions prolong the period of difficulty for individuals attempting to obtain housing or employment, which are both critical factors that reduce recidivism and promote rehabilitative success.