Defender Statement on PA Legislature’s Passage of Criminal Justice Bills

PHILADELPHIA—“On December 13, the PA Legislature passed justice system reform bills that represent significant and positive steps toward criminal justice reform. We celebrate these milestones as victories for justice system-involved Pennsylvanians. At the same time, lawmakers also passed legislation that doesn’t go far enough, or, in some cases represent setbacks in our efforts to create a justice system that works for everyone.    


“For the first time, the state budget includes funding for public defender offices across the Commonwealth. This is a major budget provision that removes Pennsylvania’s distinction of being the only state that doesn’t provide funding for indigent defense.   


“The Defender Association is particularly thrilled about the passage of HB 689 (Clean Slate Expansion). Entanglement with the criminal justice system justice can create unnecessary lifelong obstacles to housing, career and job opportunities. HB 689 allows Pennsylvanians to seal felony records for most theft and drug convictions after 13 crime-free years. This is a major win for the thousands of people who’ve served their time and are working hard to build a better future for themselves and their families. 


“Unfortunately, while we’re appreciative of the amendments made to HB 838 (probation reform bill), the legislation still falls far short of what the Defender Association would want for the tens of thousands of clients we represent in cases related to probation violations.     


“We’re particularly concerned about the passage of SB 140, which allows the Attorney General to appoint a special prosecutor to investigate and prosecute crimes occurring ‘within a public transportation center,’ effectively eliminating local and duly elected District Attorneys from the equation. We also feel that the Legislature missed opportunities to make meaningful changes to the Commonwealth’s juvenile justice and medical parole laws.    


“While we certainly don’t support every bill that passed last night, the Defender Association appreciates the energy that is being focused on changes to Pennsylvania’s justice system. We remain committed to working with our community allies, and sharing what we learn from data and our clients’ experiences with our state legislators. Ultimately, we believe these conversations will lead to improved criminal justice reform legislation in the future.”     


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