Pennsylvania legislator says new bipartisan bill will prevent 'perpetual state' of parole violations

Pennsylvania state Rep. Jordan Harris (D) said Monday that a new criminal justice bill will help prevent a “perpetual state” of probation and parole violations that keeps many former inmates trapped in the correctional system.

Harris and state Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R), alongside rapper Meek Mill’s Reform Alliance, introduced bipartisan legislation last month that aims to reduce the punitive nature of the state's community supervision system by eliminating consecutive probation sentences and prohibiting the extension of probation over the nonpayment of fines and costs.

The legislation would also create incentives for good behavior.

“Once you get any type of violation, a judge can actually extend the time that you have been on probation or parole, which could actually set up a perpetual state of being on probation or parole for an indefinite amount of time,” Harris told Hill.TV.

“We just want to set perimeters for what probation and parole should look like in Pennsylvania,” he added.

Harris said that under the current system, former inmates can be sent back to prison for violating a range of rules, including failing to secure a job or not paying court fees and fines.

“Probation and parole is like the quicksand of the criminal justice system,” he said. “The moment that you get in, it’s hard to get out. And the harder you try to get out, it continues to pull you back in.”

Delozier, who is lead sponsor of the bill, said the legislation will help those under community supervision avoid the technical pitfalls of their probation or parole by allowing for more flexibility.

“We need to make sure that we can say to someone, 'You can work with your parole officer.' You can make sure that, 'Hey, I’m going for a job interview, I can’t make that meeting,’” she told Hill.TV. “The flexibility does need to be there.”

But the Republican lawmaker maintained that inmates will still face consequences if they break the rules of their probation or parole.

“The ramifications do need to be there as well if someone does ignore the fact that they have to come in and talk to their probation officer, ignore the fact that they have to get a job, ignore the fact that they might have to take classes or do something that is part of why they were let out,” Delozier said.

Pennsylvania has the second-highest rate of residents on probation or parole in the nation.

According to group Pennsylvania Prison Society, the state’s prison population has increased 850 percent in the last 40 years, costing taxpayers more than $2.4 billion per year.

— Tess Bonn