|By State Rep. Tarah Toohil (R-Luzerne)
Pennsylvania has the second highest number of people on probation or parole in the country. In fact, many with criminal records are working alongside or interacting with us every day and we may not even know it.
The truth is, there are those who have paid their debt to society, deeply regret their past failings and are making every effort to be productive, law-abiding citizens. However, their past criminal history hangs over them like a dark cloud and hampers their efforts to land a better job and get ahead.
A bipartisan package of criminal justice reforms is making its way through the Pennsylvania General Assembly. The 10-bill “Smart Justice” initiative would continue to hold lawbreakers accountable for their actions and protect the public and victims from dangerous criminals, while also providing those who demonstrate a desire and willingness to become good citizens the opportunity for a second chance.
Pennsylvania’s prison population has risen by about 850% over the past 40 years. Today, our 25 state prisons house more than 45,000 inmates at an annual cost to taxpayers of $2.4 billion! While many of these inmates have committed serious crimes and deserve to be there, a study by the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections shows that nearly one-third are in prison because of a technical violation of their probation or parole.
The legislation now before the General Assembly aims to reduce recidivism by helping those on probation and parole succeed. The package of bills helps to lift the stigma that comes with a criminal record, making it easier for ex-offenders to get jobs and occupational licenses and remain on the outside as productive members of society.
About 27% of those formerly incarcerated are unemployed, which increases the risk they will reoffend or go on welfare. This initiative would encourage employers to hire ex-offenders and would require the expungement of an individual’s criminal record if pardoned or acquitted. The legislation also requires periodic reviews to determine if probation can be terminated for some individuals and places limits on probation sentences and warrantless searches.
Other bills included in the Smart Justice package would provide for additional oversight and funding for county adult probation programs and authorize studies and a task force to improve the system.
The Smart Justice legislation represents meaningful reforms that will give deserving ex-offenders a second chance while also protecting public safety, reducing prison populations and providing the relief that taxpayers so richly deserve. To learn more, visit the Smart Justice site
Representative Tarah Toohil
116th Legislative District
Pennsylvania House of Representatives
Contact: Rep. Toohil’s Office