Op-Ed: Make Pennsylvanians Safer, Reform Probation

Make Pennsylvanians Safer: Reform Probation - Jim Schultz - July 18, 2022 Pennsylvania’s current probation system is big government bureaucracy at its worst. It’s no shock that it fails to make Pennsylvanians safer. The system actually makes our state less safe, in addition to disrupting lives and costing a fortune.

Our state’s lawmakers have a rare opportunity to hit a grand slam: reduce the crime rate, expand our workforce, save taxpayer dollars, and help people in the criminal justice system reintegrate, all at once.

I’m a conservative, and I believe the Assembly should urgently prioritize Senate Bill 913, offering comprehensive probation reform. It’s a bipartisan no-brainer: a more robust set of sensible, evidence-based, public safety-focused measures that would dramatically improve our state's probation system.

At the end of 2020, Pennsylvania had about 112,000 people on probation and was one of the few states that saw that number increase that year. Our state supervises about 25 percent more people than the national average.

And the state’s supervision terms are also remarkably long, with 10- and 20-year sentences not uncommon. This is entirely too long and has failed to accomplish its goal — to reduce recidivism.

The evidence is strong that the public safety benefits of supervision drop dramatically after the first few years of a person’s sentence. Longer terms of supervision actually seem to make future crime more likely.

A recent study by the Pennsylvania Commission on Sentencing found that almost 88% of the studied probation cases in which the person was resentenced involved a technical violation, such as leaving the county or missing a meeting. Many individuals are sentenced to county jail or prison.

Sending people back to jail for technical violations represents not only a staggering cost to affected families, but also to taxpayers. Each prison readmission costs the state over $40,000 per year. Rather than using this money to lock people up for breaking a curfew, Pennsylvania could be using this money to address violent crime.


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