Philadelphia’s District Attorney Must Continue the Work to End Mass Supervision

Philadelphia’s District Attorney Must Continue the Work to End Mass Supervision

The Point

On May 18, Philadelphia will choose a Democratic nominee for this year’s district attorney race. While incumbent District Attorney Larry Krasner has taken steps to reduce Philadelphia’s probation and parole population, whoever wins the primary must do more work to address Philadelphia’s mass supervision problem.

Philadelphia’s district attorney must adopt policies that will significantly scale back mass supervision: 

  • The next district attorney must decrease the number of people who are subjected to probation or parole. Philadelphia has led the country in its use of probation and parole, though the current district attorney has decreased this number by more than a third.
  • The district attorney must cap the amount of time people are put on probation or parole because lengthy supervision terms are ineffective and do more harm than good. Krasner implemented a policy in 2019 that capped the length of time prosecutors would seek for a probation or parole term depending on the offense. Challenger Carlos Vega opposes caps and advocates instead for reducing supervision terms in response to demonstrated positive behavior. 
  • The district attorney must not seek incarceration or revocation of probation or parole for technical violations. Currently, Krasner caps the amount of time prosecutors can ask for in response to a technical violation at 60 days. 
  • A majority of voters support policies that would curtail mass supervision. According to a report and polling by Data for Progress and The Lab, “most voters believe that the current system of probation and parole isn’t working and that overarching reforms are necessary.” 

Pennsylvania’s abuse of probation and parole perpetuates mass incarceration and undermines public safety:

  • Mass supervision drives mass incarceration. A 2018 report by the Columbia Justice Lab notes that Pennsylvania’s rate of supervision is 36% higher than the national average. A 2017 Council of State Governments report found that more than half of Pennsylvania’s prison admissions were due to supervision violations.
  • A recent Lab explainer details many of the problems with probation as a default alternative to a jail or prison sentence: “Not only are people assigned a litany of rules, they are given few meaningful resources to follow through on requirements that may last for many years.” Because of this, probation often ends in jail or prison rather than the successful completion of the supervision term.
  • Philadelphia’s probation and parole practices can “dictate[] where people can live, where they can work, the shape and scope of their aspirations,” as The Philadelphia Inquirer’s 2019 investigative report showed. Supervision hinders people from securing stable housing, building community ties, and maintaining employment because the conditions are so onerous and the risk of violating them comes with such a high price. In other words, supervision perpetuates instability instead of promoting it. 

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