Philadelphia’s District Attorney Must Continue the Work to End Mass Supervision
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.
- Philadelphia D.A. Race Tests Larry Krasner’s Sweeping Probation Reforms. The population of people under supervision has dropped during Krasner’s first term, but his opponent in the May primary wants to roll back his changes.
- The Case For Moving Beyond Probation, And How To Do It. The most promising opportunity to reduce mass incarceration—along with many other problems plaguing the criminal legal system—is to reduce the number of people on probation.
- The Probation Trap. (The Philadelphia Inquirer) Pennsylvania has one of the nation’s highest rates of supervision, driven by unusual laws that leave judges unchecked. But many people fail, ending up in jail or in a cycle of ever more probation.