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PHILADELPHIA, Pa. (KDKA) — Pennsylvania State Rep. Jordan Harris and Rep. Sheryl Delozier were joined today by the REFORM Alliance in outlining legislation they are planning to introduce that would reform Pennsylvania’s parole and probation system.
“Out of all 50 states, Pennsylvania has the second highest percentage of citizens on probation and parole,” Harris said. “These lengthy probation sentences are unnecessary and only hold down people who are trying to right their lives and become productive members of society again.”
Harris and Delozier were joined by a group of bipartisan legislators that included state Rep. Stephen Kinsey, the chairman of the Pennsylvania Legislative Black Caucus, as well as several advocacy groups such as The Commonwealth Foundation, Americans for Prosperity, #cut50, Justice Action Network, Families Against Mandatory Minimums and Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry.
Also joining them was REFORM CEO and CNN host Van Jones.
“With this proposed legislation, we want to put people on probation and parole in positions to succeed – not wind up back in prison and perpetuate an ongoing cycle,” Jones said. “I appreciate the work and time that Representatives Harris and Delozier have devoted to collaborating wit the REFORM Alliance to address this bipartisan issue. This is just the beginning, but there’s more work to be done.”
Pennsylvania 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 with people who violated terms of their probation or parole.
The proposed legislation aims to remove pitfalls such as nonviolent mistakes that cause people to be pulled back into the criminal justice system. The changes include preventing the court from sentencing a person to consecutive sentences of probation, preventing the court from extending probation or parole due solely to nonpayment of fines and costs and creating a system of incentives that reward good behavior.
The bill would also remove testing positive for marijuana as well as leaving the jurisdiction of the court without the intent to permanently avoid supervision as parole and probation violations.
“Criminal justice reform is badly needed in Pennsylvania. In our communities, we have seen first-hand how our prison industrial system traps people — and entire families — in an endless cycle of poverty and punishment,” said Rep. Ed Gainey. “We need to be looking at ways we can break that cycle, not perpetuate it across generations. We need to talk about hope, not hopelessness. That’s why I am supporting this legislation, which I believe is a step in the right direction, a step down a path to a criminal justice system that works with – and not against – our communities.”
Delozier and Harris have championed criminal justice reform in the Pennsylvania legislature, working in a bipartisan fashion on clean slate legislation signed into law last session. Pennsylvania’s clean slate law, which gives nonviolent offenders who have stayed out of trouble the chance to seal their criminal record from public view, has been lauded as a national model of positive criminal justice reform.