Harrisburg, PA — As legislators return to Harrisburg, a new poll is showing a groundswell of bipartisan support for criminal justice reform legislation, including probation and occupational licensing reform bills in the House and Senate.
The new poll, released today by the Justice Action Network reveals that Pennsylvanians across the political spectrum overwhelmingly support measures to “significantly improve” the state’s criminal justice system, with 75% voter support for probation reform and more than 80% support for occupational licensing reform proposals.
The poll was released as advocates flood the capitol building for a probation reform advocacy day hosted by FAMM.
Listen to the full interview with Jenna Moll, deputy director of the Justice Action Network.
The new poll was conducted by Robert Blizzard of Public Opinion Strategies, one of the nation’s leading public opinion research firms. Among its key findings:
- 75% of voters support a statewide proposal for probation reform to limit probation terms and incentivize compliance with terms, including 66% of Republicans, 73% of Independents, and 83% of Democrats.
- 81% of voters support a statewide proposal for occupational licensing reform, including 76% of Republicans, 81% of Independents, and 85% of Democrats.
- 68% of voters believe that the criminal justice system needs significant improvements.
- 93% of voters believe that we should break down barriers for people coming out of prisons so they can get jobs, support their families, and stop being so dependent on government services.
- Voters would be more likely to re-elect legislators that support occupational licensing reform by a margin of nearly 4-1, and by a nearly 3-1 margin for those that support probation reform.
“At the end of the day, our role as elected officials is to make life better for the people of the Commonwealth– and that means providing more opportunity, less government, and safer neighborhoods,” said Senator Camera Bartolotta. “Criminal justice reform helps achieve all three of these goals and today’s poll is positive proof that our constituents agree. That is why I am proud to be a prime sponsor of SB 14, legislation that will help reform our overly burdensome probation system from one that too often traps people in a cycle of incarceration, to one that offers opportunity and a path to a better life.”
“These poll results validate that Pennsylvanians overwhelmingly support offering second chances for the formerly incarcerated to reenter society as productive and hard-working citizens,” said Senator John DiSanto. “Removing a criminal record’s lifelong barriers to gainful employment promotes pathways to work and economic opportunity while reducing recidivism. It’s time the General Assembly pass Senate Bill 637 and make Pennsylvania a state that allows all its citizens to prosper and succeed.”
“It’s clear that a majority of Pennsylvanians – Republican, Democrat and Independents – see the need for dramatic change to Pennsylvania’s broken probation system,” said Senator Anthony Williams. “Pennsylvania is #1 in adults under community supervision –our friends, family and neighbors caught in a system designed to keep them incarcerated – and that’s why I’m working with my colleagues across the aisle and in both chambers to enact real reform this session.”
“Criminal justice reform isn’t limited to improving conditions and rehabilitation inside prison walls,” said Representative Jordan Harris. “The opportunities that are available to justice-involved individuals when they’re re-entering society can really make all the difference in people’s lives, and that’s where probation and occupational licensing reforms come into play. I’m proud to partner across the aisle on these critical pieces of legislation that will improve the lives of our constituents – and I’m thrilled to know that more than 9 in 10 Pennsylvanians agree.”
“The people of the Commonwealth are sending a strong message to Harrisburg – the time for criminal justice reform is now – and we’re listening,” said Representative Sheryl Delozier. “The bills my bipartisan colleagues and I put forward to reform probation and simplify and expand access to occupational licensing will go a long way towards turning people away from crime and into the workforce. I look forward to working with my colleagues in the House and Senate to continue pursuing criminal justice reforms that will result in safer communities and increased opportunity for folks that deserve a second chance.”
“These new poll results confirm what Pennsylvanians already know, and what we can no longer afford to ignore: voters from both sides of the aisle are coming together to support smart criminal justice reforms that make our communities safer and stronger,” said Jenna Moll, Deputy Director of Justice Action Network. “Reforming our burdensome occupational licensing and probation laws will get Pennsylvanians back to work, reduce recidivism, and save taxpayer dollars. It’s clear that voters from both parties want structural changes to the Commonwealth’s criminal justice system—and thanks to our champions in the legislature, including Senators Anthony Williams, Camera Bartolotta, John DiSanto, and Judy Schwank, and Art Haywood; and Representatives Jordan Harris and Sheryl Delozier, we’re confident they’ll get them.”
The results come as members of the General Assembly are considering legislative proposals that would reform probation and occupational licensing laws in Pennsylvania. The proposals would take critical steps towards breaking down barriers to success for individuals in the justice system, while reducing recidivism and saving taxpayer dollars.
SB 14 and HB 1555, introduced by a coalition of bipartisan lawmakers including prime sponsors Senators Bartolotta (R-46) and Williams (D-8), and Representatives Delozier (R-88) and Harris (D-186), would transform the state’s complicated and overly punitive probation system. If passed, the bill’s reforms would include:
- Instituting graduated sanctions for technical probation violations;
- Prohibiting lengthy incarceration as punishment for technical violations;
- Creating resentencing guidelines for those currently incarcerated for technical violations;
- Providing incentives for compliance via earned or good time credits for those serving probation sentences; and,
- Providing statutory maximums for probation sentences.
SB 637 and HB 1477, introduced by a coalition of bipartisan lawmakers including prime sponsors Senators Schwank (D-11) and DiSanto (R-15), and Representatives Harris (D-186) and Delozier (R-88), guarantees that individuals with criminal histories would have an occupational license withheld only if their convictions are directly related to said occupation. In addition, the bill would empower review boards to examine each case individually and consider factors such as length of sentence, and time passed since conviction.
If passed, the Pennsylvania bills would build upon the state’s first-in-the-nation Clean Slate Law – which went into effect this August – that helped thousands of formerly incarcerated individuals achieve gainful employment and become productive members of society.
“These poll results confirm that Pennsylvanians are tired of seeing their friends and neighbors cycle in and out of the criminal justice system, said Celeste Trusty, FAMM Pennsylvania State Policy Director. “Long probation sentences are like quicksand that keeps people from moving forward. The reforms in HB 1555 and SB 14 would let people earn their way off probation sooner and ease the burden community supervision places on Pennsylvania’s families. These poll results should convince lawmakers that probation reform is an easy vote and deserves passage in Harrisburg this year.”
“The broad bipartisan coalition working together on these issues clearly reflects what Pennsylvanians across the commonwealth have been telling us – our criminal legal system is in desperate need of reform,” said Reggie Shuford, Executive Director of ACLU of Pennsylvania. “Pennsylvania’s broken probation system disproportionately impacts people of color and is one of the most significant drivers of our mass incarceration crisis. With virtually no limit to probation terms, far too many Pennsylvanians are subject to intrusive government surveillance and the everyday risk that they might get caught up in a technical violation of their probation. We will continue to vigorously advocate for the passage of probation reform legislation in the General Assembly.”
“The PA Chamber agrees with the majority of Pennsylvania voters who believe that reforms are needed to better help individuals who have learned from their past mistakes to get a fair shot at a second chance,” said Pennsylvania Chamber President and CEO Gene Barr. “This is truly a workforce issue. We have a whole segment of people right now that aren’t able to take advantage of job opportunities across the state and move themselves and their families forward because a mistake that they made years ago is holding them back. We need to move people off of the sidelines and help them to re-enter the workforce and become productive members of society.”
“Despite these harsh partisan times, transformative issues can still bring us together,” said Charles Mitchell, President of the Commonwealth Foundation. “The vast majority of people in our state know that our criminal justice system and occupational licensing practices need reform. Overincarceration due to technical violations during long probation sentences and the denial of economic opportunity due to restrictive licensing are holding too many Pennsylvanians and their families back.”
“SB 637 and HB 1477 will reform an outdated state law which has caused many Pennsylvanians to be denied the opportunity to work in entire professional fields, on the basis of convictions which bear no relation to the work they are seeking to do – even sometimes in fields for which the taxpayers have paid to train them,” said Brendan Lynch, a staff attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
About the Justice Action Network
The Justice Action Network is the largest bipartisan 501(c)(4) organization in the country advocating for criminal justice reform at the state and federal level. From state houses to the White House, Justice Action Network and its partners on the right to the left have paved the way for life-changing criminal justice reforms, including sentencing reform, prison reform, re-entry reform, and so much more. For more information on their work, visit www.justiceactionnetwork.org.