Probation in Pennsylvania Keeps People Trapped in the Cycle of Incarceration

by Elizabeth Randol

Imagine a world in which you can be detained by police and thrown in jail for taking a phone call from a family member. Or for walking down the same street in your neighborhood that you’ve been taking for years. Or for getting laid off from your job. 

When an individual is sentenced to probation in Pennsylvania, the government imposes dozens of onerous conditions upon them. These conditions can include a prohibition on traveling outside of the county, forbidding conversation with certain people (basically anyone a probation officer deems disreputable), random and invasive drug testing, home inspections, and a requirement that the person on probation be in their home during certain hours. Those on probation are subject to near-constant government surveillance and supervision. 

“Technical violations,” or non-compliance with any of the numerous conditions of probation, behavior which would never be considered a crime can send that person back to jail for weeks, months, and sometimes years. A study recently released by the Council of State Governments found that 25% of 2017 prison admissions were for technical violations of supervision and 54% of all prison admissions were for supervision violations — clear evidence that probation and parole are key drivers of mass incarceration in PA. 

Pennsylvania is also one of just a handful of states that fails to impose a cap on the length of the probation sentences. Pennsylvania judges have the discretion to dole out probation sentences that can last years, even decades. Living for years with the fear that the smallest misstep will send you back to jail as the government is breathing down your neck every moment is no way to live a life.

Last month, Senator Lisa Baker, chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, held two days of public hearings regarding probation and parole terms in the commonwealth – a welcome and laudable effort intended to help the committee get their arms around how these complex systems work in Pennsylvania and the minefields people must navigate as they return to their families and communities.

One person who testified and shared her story was Latonya “T” Meyers. T spent nine months in jail even though she was eventually acquitted — she did not have enough money to pay bail. Soon after returning home, T had enrolled in community college and became an advocate for other people in reentry, joining the Defender Association of Philadelphia as a full-time staffer. 

But after a flawless record on parole that led her parole officer to not even require regular check-ins, T’s supervision shifted to probation. That’s where the trouble started. Because of risk assessment algorithm, T was labeled “high risk” and ordered to check in with her probation officer weekly. 

T had to miss work once a week (thankfully her bosses understood) to check in with her probation officer, who told her that because of her high-risk status, she would never be able to ease the terms of her probation until 2027. 

When the city of Philadelphia presented T with an award for being an up and coming leader for those in reentry, T’s probation officer was not in attendance. Instead, she was writing an arrest warrant for T, who was late to their scheduled meeting because she was receiving her award. Her probation officer never acknowledged the award, only asking T the same mundane questions she was asked every week: Did you move? Did you change your phone number? And so on. 

It doesn’t have to be this way.

The Pennsylvania Senate is currently considering a bill, Senate Bill 14, that would reform probation in the commonwealth by capping probation terms and mandating early termination of probation after a certain period with no violations, among other badly needed reforms. 

Probation reform and smart criminal justice reform are not partisan issues or ideological issues. Individuals and organizations across the political spectrum want to see bold, meaningful change. We at the ACLU of Pennsylvania urge the Pennsylvania Senate to move swiftly when they return to session to pass S.B.14 and the Pennsylvania House of Representatives to take it up as soon as possible. 

Tens of thousands of Pennsylvanians languishing on needlessly long and punishing probation terms are in desperate need of this reform. Legislators should act accordingly.

Take action to support S.B.14 here.

Elizabeth Randol is the Legislative Director at the ACLU of Pennsylvania

4 thoughts on “Probation in Pennsylvania Keeps People Trapped in the Cycle of Incarceration

  1. I have lost so much faith in the justice system. The only people who have a chance to get fair treatment are the wealthy and the famous.
    The public defenders office is a joke since they are poorly funded compared to the district attorneys. It is all about money. Today’s police often have the attitude of “us against them” for anyone over 11 years old. They are often disrespectful and brash
    When asking questions even to people who are not suspects. As a nurse I have witnessed this many times.

    • I Have a Mentally ill son who has been a 9 year victim and no end in site along with me his mom Givin a HELL on Earth Sentence ,with 100% provable facts that because the 2 district of 24th on Whitaker and Erie ave. And the 7th District,oh and the last and final nail in my coffin the disgrace treatment of the 8th district who’s white shirt huge tough guy attitude toward me did not scare nor deter me by now I’ve encountered countless verbally,And to my son several physically attacked him from behind smashing his teeth skull,lips,nose ,required metal stiching,twice to close skull once by Whitaker district 5 cops 1 foul mouthed female cop,second , time by a corrupt thief fired in 1990’s for 90,000 in claiming Over Time was caught sitting home fired ,FOP got him a lawyer ,rehired no jail,no need to repay 90,000 ,#1 Enemy Till I Die ,Dect. KENNETH ŔOSSITER,WHO BEAT MY SON UP ,WAS ABLE TO BE PROven,By his youngest of 5 kids Daughter Kendall Rossiter,and my daughter Taylor Perkins who became best friends ,a million to none chance ,4 years of high school Saint Hubert s,Me,My Husband Daniel’s Dad Robert ( passed away 5 yrs.this past June,My parents My mother passed 2 years ago Oct.13 ,,my 80 year old dad ,and Mental Health P.O. Sean Kersey ,same 1 for 9 years,needs to be fired,his boss Christopher McFillin,who swore,promised to help my son and my life of Hell after I go ogled P.O. Bosses in Philadelphia and he answered ,called back twice with each call trying to tell him 11 years worth of Websters Dictionary Thick Fact Non Fiction , He’ll on Earth My Son and as his Mom have Lived ,and till my last breath will fight for justice ,money big time for rest of his life to be able to live a once great life he had till age 19 developed Paranoid,Scizophinia,Bipolar! !!!!

  2. The Corrupt justice system from crime of 90,000 in claimed over time received by Kenneth Rossiter back in the 1990’s was caught by then police commissioner Seth Williams ordering servallance,of his home by under cover officers who caught this corrupt thief,at his very expensive single home right at the corner of Verree and Alburger,St. Still lives there ! Fired,here’s the kicker the FOP hired Lawyer not only got this corrupt BASTARD,HIS JOB BACK BUT NO FINE,TIME,OR PAY BACK OF THE 90,000! GOOGLE THIS EVIL DECT.’S NAME THE ENTIRE STORY WILL POP UP ON THE FRONT AND BOTH SIDES OF CENTER PAGES IN PHILADELPHIA DAILY NEWS! MY ISSUE WITH THIS BASTARD,HAPPENED IN 2013 WHO WITH HIS COP NEIGHBOR AND HIS 7TH DISTRICT PUPPETS WHERE HIS TRIPLE DIGIT END HUGE SINGLE HOME WITH HIS 5 CHILDREN,AND WIFE ALL DRIVE ING BRAND NEW CARS , PARKED IN A ROW SIDE BY SIDE IN FRONT DRIVEWAY ! On a Dect.Salary with catholic educated tuition payments I know for his youngest daughter was over5,000 a year,cause she and my row home living entire life even when my dad joined the Philadelphia Police Department in 1960, made dect, in the D.A.’s office where he retired after 35 years ,worked 2 jobs and my brother and I went through the Philadelphia Public School System living like I said in Holmesburg Section where my now 80 year old father still lives. Long story Horrible Still Continues today 8/7/2019 6 frigging years and no end for my mentally ill adult son who has a corrupt Mental Health P.O. Sean Kersey for all 6 dam years,my son has been beat up twice by 5 or more uniform cops from behind district 24,or 35 the cops at Whitaker and Erie Ave. Then by big bad dect.Rossiter the cop neighbor also from behind ,never having a weapon , not even a thing in pockets ,both times needed hospital treatment , metal stiches,in his skull ,repeatedly grabbed by his neck having the 4,5, on Erie Ave. With 1 being a foul mouthed bitch,female smashing his teeth,nose,lips,head on the curb! He did not 1 crime and fact is I,had 4 witnesses 1 being Rossiter ‘s daughter Kendall , the other my daughter Taylor Perkins,Myself, Both my Parents,and my son’s Dad Robert Perkins ,since then his dad,my mom who my son Daniel was extremely close to Both have pasted away,and my 80 year old retired dect. Dad Donald Edmonds in bad shape ,my hell on earth and my heartbreaking Son who is was a victim of corruption from uniform cops,to The entire and I mean entire public defender office plus their boss,judge palumbo, D.A. ‘s office and equally Idiot DA Larry Liar Krasner,and provable Internal Affairs Office on Duncan Rd. !!!! My son has been in jail this time since April 26,2017 both in D.C. transfered to PICC,WHEN D.C. CLOSED , WAS TRANSPORTED TO NORRISTOWN STATE HOSPITAL JAN.28,2019 AND IS STILL THERE! MR. CHRISTOPHER MCFILLIN,ONE OF THE HEADS OF ALL P.O.’s,Called me ,I told him What I could about The Worst one of them All Mental health P.O. Sean Kersey,after 9 years and 30,names of public servants I called for help,Mr.MCFILLIN Promised To Help My Son and Me but once I told him my now top 6 provable law suit worthy Heads Are Going To Roll ,Mayor Head Village Idiot Kenney, Larry KRASNER,AND MANY MORE WILL BE FIRED,NAME BY FULL NAMES,BY THE GRACE OF GOD BEFORE ANY DEMOCRAP, IS REELECTED IN NOV.2020! TILL DEATH I DO PART..SINCERITY DIANE J. PERKINS ! 😈

  3. I just wrote a long but so short in real corrupt facts post about my and my son’s 10 years and counting Hell on Earth ,The corrupt justice system caused my Mentally ill Now 34 year old son ,and a death life sentence for me his mom who for 9 years has fought,begged , to be heard,including just 1 of a 3 page of full names I have called , tried to talk to face to face from uniform cops to all of Philadelphia ‘s Public Defenders and their Boss , Judge Palumbo,Mental Health P.O. who cause all this Hell but lied,false promised,avoided me and my family’s truth,able to prove and since 2009 a Sean Kerse,Who we all caught on to his fake,lies,sworn promises ,kept his voice message 3,4, weeks old and never ever called back . Oh I have 9 inches of proof!

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