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Pennsylvania's Triumph in Criminal Justice Reform



Incredible victories were made the last two weeks as the Pennsylvania Legislature passed three criminal justice reform bills that our team has been committed to making law for years. Governor Josh Shapiro went on to sign these groundbreaking pieces of legislation into law. This signaled a greater commitment to public safety and accountability throughout the Commonwealth. These transformative bills include SB 838, which champions probation reform, HB 689, that focuses on expungement initiatives for those who have paid their debt to society, and the unanimous passage of HB 900, which provides for the dignity of women in prisons.


Starting with Senate Bill 838, comprehensive probation reform, led by Senator Baker, helps improve the reintegration of incarcerated individuals into their communities. Nearly 100,000 individuals face extended periods and unnecessary incarceration for technical violations, such as missing appointments or crossing county lines for family or work obligations. SB 838 creates pathways for early termination of probation, incentivizes activities that are proven to reduce recidivism, and ensure personalized conditions that address real risks and needs. This creates a pathway toward success and moves away from a one-size fits all approach and toward a more individualized approach.


Another crucial win for criminal justice reform in the state is House Bill 689, a Clean Slate Initiative, sponsored by Representatives Harris and Delozier. This new law ensures that Pennsylvanians who receive pardon will have their criminal records automatically expunged. This not only promotes the principles of rehabilitation and redemption but also eliminates unnecessary barriers for individuals seeking to rebuild their lives post-pardon. With a commitment to advancing policies that uphold justice and fairness, we applaud the passage of Clean Slate as a significant stride towards a more equitable and forgiving system after incarceration.


Finally, House Bill 900, ensures Pennsylvania’s commitment to the humane treatment of women within its prisons. Representatives Cephas and Jones were pivotal to moving this legislation forward. This bill focuses on the well-being of pregnant and postpartum women in prison. It requires proper healthcare provisions such as addressing essential needs such as feminine hygiene or educating pregnant women on sustenance. It is not lost on us that 80% of women that come into prison have been sexually or domestically abused in some way. This is why the bill addresses these issues by requiring female correctional officers to be where female inmates are in a state of undress.


ACUF’s Nolan Center for Justice celebrates all these legislative victories as meaningful progress towards a more accountable criminal justice system. We continue our advocacy efforts that prioritize public safety, fiscal responsibility, and human dignity.

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