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The Latest Push to Update Pennsylvania’s Probation System, And Its Critics

Brittany Valentine
Brittany Valentine
Posted on July 20   |   Updated on July 27
Meek Mill in Philadelphia

In 2022, Meek Mill launched the nonprofit Reform Alliance in 2019, driving much of the legislative efforts. (Shareif Ziyadat/Getty Images)

After several failed attempts over the last five years, the Pennsylvania state Senate recently introduced yet another bill to overhaul the Commonwealth’s probation system, Spotlight PA reports.

In 2018, lawmakers ramped up efforts to fix the system after Philadelphia rapper Meek Mill’s decade-long probation case drew national attention.

But some local civil rights advocates oppose the new legislation, maintaining that it doesn’t address ongoing problems, and could actually make probation worse.

Under current law, judges can rescind an individual’s probation and send them back to jail for virtually any reason. This can lead people to become trapped in long cycles of monitoring and incarceration for non-criminal violations, such as missing a call from a probation officer.

The nonprofit Reform Alliance, which was co-founded by Meek Mill, supports the bill. In a statement, the group highlighted amendments that will safely reduce the number of people under supervision.

For example, the bill would limit the circumstances in which individuals can be incarcerated for technical violations, as well as the amount of time a court can incarcerate someone for the same reason.

But the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania argued the legislation could actually cause more harm.

For example, the bill would also create a new type of “administrative” probation for those who haven’t met the terms of their probation and have to pay damages owed to a crime victim. ACLU-PA attorneys say that’s unconstitutional, and punishes people solely based on their inability to pay.

The Pennsylvania State Senate passed the bill, but its fate in the state House of Representatives is unclear. Lawmakers return in September, and still have to break a budget deadlock.

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