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State Sen. Anthony Williams called for an end to “America’s terrible experiment of overcriminalization and over-incarceration” last week. — SUBMITTED PHOTO

State Sen. Anthony Williams recently called for a significant reduction of citizens on probation and parole in Pennsylvania.

“Recent events in Philadelphia have highlighted the broken state of probation in Pennsylvania, revealing a system in desperate need of reform,” he said in a statement.

Referring to musician Meek Mill's imprisonment for probation violation committed a decade after his original offense, Williams has been a longtime advocate for reform in the corrections system.

“That’s why I introduced Senate Bill 1067, developed in cooperation with the American Civil Liberties Union of Pennsylvania, to address the largest issues facing community corrections in the commonwealth,” he said.

Pennsylvania leads the nation in both the number (112,351) and rate (1,109 per 100,000) of adults under parole supervision. The state's rate of probation supervision, 1,522 per 100,000 adults, is 19 percent higher than the national average.

Citing a recent report by Columbia University researcher Vincent Schiraldi that Pennsylvanians are three times more likely than citizens of other states to be under parole supervision, Williams said his bill would “limit sentences of probation to evidence-based maximum effective terms, create graduated responses to technical violations, and incentivize good behavior through sentence reduction.”

“America’s terrible experiment of over-criminalization and over-incarceration must come to an end; instead of seeking to punish we should instead help to rehabilitate offenders into valuable members of our community,” Williams said.

According to Schiraldi, senior research scientist and adjunct professor at the Columbia University School of Social Work and co-director of the Columbia Justice Lab, probation and parole populations are declining nationally but are growing in Pennsylvania.

“Pennsylvania is oddly and significantly out of step with the rest of the nation when it comes to the volume of people supervised on probation and parole and the length of their supervision," Schiraldi said.

"As a result, far more people are incarcerated in Pennsylvania for probation and parole violations than is the case in other states, costing hundreds of millions of dollars annually, and delegitimizing community corrections in the eyes of the very communities it purports to protect,” he said.

“In other words, Meek Mill is not alone,” he said.

“State policymakers should use the attention that the Mill case has generated to bring Pennsylvania into step with national trends and best practices, shrinking the footprint of its community corrections system, focusing rehabilitative resources on those most in need of it, and legitimizing Pennsylvania community corrections for the 21st century,” Schiraldi concluded.

Along with 45 prosecutors associated with the Fair and Just Prosecution organization, over 30 district attorneys and attorneys general from across the country have pledged support for the Columbia Justice Lab's "Statement on the Future of Community Corrections."

“I applaud the former and current prosecutors, individuals and organizations who, by signing on to this statement, recognize the need for change is real and the time for that change is finally upon us,” Williams said. “I urge the Pennsylvania Senate Judiciary Committee to promptly consider Senate Bill 1067.”

Contact Johann Calhoun at newseditor@phillytrib.com or call at (215) 893-5739

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