Since 1787 the Prison Society has advocated for humane prison conditions and rational criminal justice in Pennsylvania. The PA General Assembly began its two-year legislative session in January, and several important criminal justice bills have already been introduced. PPS is partnering with groups like FAMM, ACLU of PA, Americans for Prosperity, and the Commonwealth Foundation, among others, to support positive reforms and oppose negative bills.


In January, representatives from all five of these groups spent a day at the state capitol sharing our priorities with lawmakers and expressing our bipartisan support for criminal justice reforms. Below, we describe some of the important topics and bills we are monitoring. (Last Updated: April 2019)

SB 123

This would allow the parole board not to consider a sexually violent predator for parole if that person has been denied parole within the previous three years.

Sponsor: Senator John Sabatina (D)
Status: Introduced 1/28/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Oppose

SB 14

This would reform how long Pennsylvanians stay on probation, and the time served in prison for probation violations. Among other reforms, the bill would require ending a person’s probation sentence if they have no violations or revocations over an 18-month period; limit prison stays to 30 days for probation revocations based on administrative violations of probation conditions (e.g., missing a meeting with a probation officer); limit the length of prison stays for revocations based on the commission of new crimes; cap probation sentences for felonies at 5 years; and cap probation sentences for misdemeanors at 3 years.

Sponsor: Senator Anthony Williams (D)
Status: Introduced 1/24/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Support

SB 93

This would make it a third degree felony for drug delivery with serious bodily injury resulting to others, and require the state’s sentencing commission to create a sentence enhancement for such cases.

Sponsor: Senator Camera Bartolotta (R)
Status: Introduced 2/12/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Oppose

SB 8

This would re-instate mandatory minimum sentences for trafficking fentanyl or mixtures of drugs containing fentanyl or fentanyl analogues. Mandatory minimum sentences would range from 2 to 9 years, depending on the weight of the drugs and the person’s criminal record.

Sponsor: Senator Mike Regan (R)
Status: Introduced 2/5/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Support

HB 257

This would create a five-year consecutive sentence for assaults by prisoners if the victim is a detention or correctional facility employee.

Sponsor: Rep. Carl Metzgar (R)
Status: Introduced 1/29/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Oppose

HB 261

This would eliminate parole eligibility for the following offenses if the victim is a detention or correctional facility employee: assault by a prisoner, or aggravated harassment by a prisoner. The bill would also require that people in prison serving life or death sentences who commit aggravated assaults receive and serve the entirety of a sentence for second degree murder. The bill defines
aggravated assault to include throwing human feces, urine, blood, or other bodily liquids at others while knowing that those liquids carry a communicable disease such as HIV or hepatitis B.

Sponsor: Rep. Carl Metzgar (R)
Status: Introduced 1/29/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Oppose

HB 497

This would limit the use of solitary confinement for PA prisoners to times when the person is in danger from himself or others; is being disciplined; and has received a medical and mental health assessment within the first 48 hours of confinement. Prisoners
would be allowed to challenge their confinement at a hearing within the first three days of confinement and every 15 days thereafter. Time in solitary would be capped at 15 consecutive days and
no more than 20 days of any 60-day period – including when a facility is placed on lockdown. Among additional other reforms, the bill would also ban the use of solitary confinement on people
who are under age 21, over age 70, or pregnant or in postpartum recovery.

The bill would limit placement of prisoners in emergency confinement to 24 hours, and ensure that people are not placed in protective custody against their will unless there is no less restrictive
way to keep them safe. The bill would also require the creation of alternative disciplinary measures other than the use of solitary; create an independent investigator to review prison misconduct
and misuse of solitary confinement; and require training for staff about how to use solitary confinement.

Sponsor: Rep. Tina Davis (R)
Status: Introduced 2/12/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Support

HB 44

This would require correctional officers to write and submit statements to the parole board within 30 days of a person’s parole hearing, or testify in person at the hearing. The parole board would be required to read and consider those statements or testimony when granting or denying parole. 

Sponsor: Rep. Pamela Snyder (D)
Status: Introduced 1/28/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Support

HB 440

This would allow expungement of a crime from a person’s record when the person is acquitted or is pardoned for the crime. 

Sponsor: Rep. Ted Nesbit (R)
Status: Introduced 2/11/19; no committee action scheduled yet.
PPS: Support

Justice Reinvestment II

In his speech on the budget, Gov. Tom Wolf said he wants the legislature to pass a package of reform bills known as Justice Reinvestment II. These reforms have not been introduced yet but could include granting parole promptly to nonviolent and shortterm offenders; improving sentencing guidelines to better evaluate recent criminal history; making more people eligible for State
Intermediate Punishments; expanding support for crime victims; reinvesting in county probation systems; and reforming the use of incarceration for failure to pay fines and fees. 

Mandatory Minimums

In 2015, the state’s Supreme Court found most mandatory minimum sentences to be unconstitutional. We will be opposing bills that would try to reinstate those mandatory minimums.

Life Without Parole

We expect that several bills could be introduced to make more people serving life without parole eligible for parole after they serve a certain number of years in prison. We’ll continue to support these efforts.

For more information on criminal justice issues, check on the Pennsylvania ACLU blog and the Pennsylvania edition of the Fair Punishment Project's In Justice Today newsletter. For a national perspective, visit the Marshall Project.