Pennsylvania Senate approves law reducing probation and jail sentencing

(Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

OAN’s Brooke Mallory
1:14 PM – Wednesday, June 28, 2023

The Pennsylvania state Senate adopted legislation on Tuesday that aims to reduce the number of individuals on probation and in jail by restricting the period of probation and barring former inmates from being sent back to jail for “minor infractions.”


The bill was approved by a vote of 45-4 and now moves to the House of Representatives, where two identical Senate proposals had died previously without a vote in parliamentary sessions. According to Senator Anthony Williams (D-Philadelphia), the state’s probation system is in desperate need of change.

“I can’t tell you how many generations of people have been lost to the probation process,” he said during a floor debate.

The bill, which has the support of both the Republican and Democratic leaders in the Senate, has developed as part of a worldwide review of probation and parole policies as states seek jail alternatives for nonviolent criminals and those who are mentally ill.

According to federal statistics, Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of persons under community supervision.

The legislation seeks to limit the duration of probation terms as well as the conditions under which a nonviolent criminal on probation might be imprisoned. It does not, however, set a time limit for probation sentences.

It also says that a court can order the termination of probation independently of any agreement reached between the prosecution and the offender on a penalty. Judges would lose their broad discretion in extending probation.

State law currently does not restrict the duration of probation sentences, and critics claim that non-violent offenders are frequently imprisoned for technical violations that are not crimes, disturbing their family lives and careers. They also claimed that it disproportionately affects ethnic minorities.

Probation review conferences would be needed under the new legislation after specific time periods, including two years for someone who committed a misdemeanor and four years for someone who committed a felony. For good behavior, probation review cases might be held early.

Probation would be obliged to terminate until the person commits a felony that proves they are a threat to public safety, fails to complete specific treatment, or fails to pay restitution under certain conditions.

The measure also forbids courts from extending someone’s probation for failing to pay fines or court fees if they are determined to be unable to do so.

However, the new law has already garnered much controversy, since opponents of the bill feel as though the new measure will allow even more potentially dangerous criminals to be let loose on the streets and in their neighborhood.

According to the National Institute of Justice, almost 44% of criminals released return before the first year out of prison, reported. 

The growing trend of mentally ill and psychotic individuals who are being quickly released from jail for their crimes due to a perceived “vulnerability” does not calm the minds of parents and law-abiding citizens who deserve to feel safe in their cities.

*Update: Cover image changed.*

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