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Pennsylvania Senate moves to overhaul probation system

Marc Levy

Pennsylvania's state Senate is again launching a bipartisan bill to overhaul how probation is handled, with a unanimous Judiciary Committee vote Tuesday.

The bill limits the length of probation sentences and the circumstances under which someone on probation can be sent to jail.

It passed the Senate unanimously last summer, but died without a vote in the state House of Representatives.

Pennsylvania is among the states with the highest rates of people under community supervision, according to federal statistics. The case of rapper Meek Mill helped shine a light on it after he spent most of his adult life on probation — including stints in jail for technical violations — before a court overturned his conviction in a drug and gun case in Philadelphia.

Critics say state law doesn’t limit the length of probation sentences and that non-violent offenders are often incarcerated for technical violations that aren't crimes, disrupting their families and employment. It also disproportionately affects racial minorities, they say.

Under the bill, probation review conferences would be required after certain periods of time, with a presumption that probation must end unless the defendant poses a threat to public safety, has not completed certain treatment or has not paid restitution under some circumstances.

A judge can also order an end to probation, under the bill.

Probation review cases can be held earlier for good behavior and the bill puts limits on situations where somebody on probation can be incarcerated and for how long.

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