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Pennsylvania House to Act on Justice Reforms

Leaders in the PA House of Representatives announced the chamber will take up a bipartisan package of bills to reform Pennsylvania’s probation and parole system, to reduce recidivism and to help formerly incarcerated individuals find jobs that will help them avoid some of the pitfalls that keep many in the state’s penal system.

“People who break our laws need to be held accountable, but we also understand we must continue to address the root causes of crime. Reforming our probation system will help those released into our communities have a better opportunity to rebuild their lives,” House Republican Majority Leader Bryan Cutler (R-Lancaster) said. “This is an important way we are working to keep our communities safe.”

“We must reward those who have shown that they are rehabilitated by getting them out of the criminal justice system quicker and with fewer collateral consequences,” said Rob Kauffman (R-Franklin), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee.

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 percent 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.

House Bill 1555, sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-Cumberland), would reform probation by prohibiting sentences of probation consecutive to another sentence of probation. Also, a court could not impose a probationary sentence greater than five years for a felony or two years for a misdemeanor.

House Bill 440, sponsored by Rep. Tedd Nesbit (R-Butler/Mercer), would mandate the expunging of an individual’s record if he or she has been pardoned or acquitted of all charges, based on the same conduct or arising from the same alleged criminal episode. The commonwealth would receive notice of a potential expunging and would have an opportunity to object and conduct a hearing.

House Bill 2040, sponsored by Rep. Jordan Harris (D-Philadelphia), would create the PA Second Chance Jobs website to provide a free and voluntary website where employers may advertise employment opportunities for former offenders.

Other bills to be voted on in the “Smart Justice” package include:

House Bill 1477, also sponsored Delozier, would create a fair, modern set of rules for the consideration of criminal records in occupational and professional licensure, which will enable employers to have a new set of skilled, qualified workers.

Senate Bill 500, sponsored by Sen. Lisa Baker, (R-Luzerne/Susquehanna/Wayne/Wyoming), would establish an advisory committee on adult county probation within the PA Commission on Crime and Delinquency, establish Justice Reinvestment grants, and reinvest cost savings into county probation and parole.

Senate Bill 502, sponsored by Sen. Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver/Greene/Washington), would make changes to the Crime Victims Act regarding victims’ rights, the responsibilities of agencies that deal with victims and the award of crime victim compensation.

House Resolution 619, sponsored by Rep. Joanna McClinton (D-Philadelphia/Delaware), would direct the Legislative Budget and Finance Committee to conduct a study to collect and organize data regarding historic funding and caseloads relating to indigent criminal defense in Pennsylvania.

House Resolution 620, sponsored by Rep. Barry Jozwiak (R-Berks), would direct the Joint State Government Commission to conduct a study regarding identification and evaluation of all categories of individuals authorized by state law to exercise arrest or other police powers.

House Resolution 634 would establish the Task Force on Technical Probation Violations. “We remain committed to keeping our families safe,” Speaker of the House Mike Turzai (R-Allegheny) said. “And one of the best ways to achieve this is to reduce recidivism by helping those who served their time transition to civilian life and find a good job. These bills will help us accomplish this.”

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