Pennsylvania Overhauls Probation System: Governor Signs Senate Bill 838 into Law

Senator Anthony H WilliamsSenator Anthony H. Williams /Image via Pennsylvania Senate Democrats

PENNSYLVANIA — Governor Josh Shapiro has signed into law Senate Bill 838, transforming the state’s probation system. The bill, sponsored by Senators Anthony Williams (D-8), Lisa Baker (R-20), and Camera Bartolotta (R-46), was passed on Wednesday night by the Senate.

“People deserve a second chance,” stated Senator Williams. “With this bill, we begin re-imagining probation as a pathway to rehabilitation rather than a cycle of punishment; we can restore dignity and empower individuals, and in turn, they will have a greater chance to regain their status as contributing members of our communities.”

The new law is part of a broader national trend of reducing punishments for technical violations of probation and allowing judges to shorten probation time for good behavior or completion of certain programs. Senate Bill 838 brings these reforms to Pennsylvania.

A cornerstone of the bill is the establishment of a mandatory probation review conference for probationers. This conference sets criteria for when probation reviews occur and instills a presumption that probation will be terminated unless the individual does not qualify. The law also allows for earlier review conferences based on the good conduct of defendants who achieve specific educational, employment, or other goals. Additionally, it includes a provision that permits waiving the mandatory review conference if all stakeholders agree it is unnecessary.

Senate Bill 838 significantly amends Title 42 (Judiciary and Judicial Procedure) of the Pennsylvania Consolidated Statutes. It provides further guidelines for probation orders, conditions of probation, and modifications or revocations of probation orders. It also details the structure of the probation review conference. The act, now known as Act No. 44 of 2023, became law on December 14, 2023.

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This legislative milestone marks a significant step towards a more compassionate and rehabilitative probation system in Pennsylvania.

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