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PA Allows Courts to Seal More Criminal Files, Reforms Probation

More Pennsylvania criminal records can be sealed from public view and fewer people might be kept on probation or in county jails under legislation signed by Gov. Josh Shapiro on Thursday. Both bills passed the House and Senate with large majorities Wednesday amid a flurry of end-of-year action, the Associated Press reports. The new probation law aims to limit the length of probation and prevent people from being sent back to jail for minor violations in a state with one of the highest rates of residents incarcerated or under supervision. It drew criticism from the American Civil Liberties Union, which says the law doesn’t fix the problems that plague Pennsylvania’s probation system and will do little to reduce the number of people under supervision. The other bill allows courts to seal records of non-violent drug felonies with a minimum sentence of under 2 1/2 years in prison and or a maximum sentence of under five years. Under the state’s existing Clean Slate law, it allows the sealing of certain nonviolent felonies for those who are conviction-free for 10 years and reduces the waiting period for automated sealing of misdemeanors from 10 to seven years.

Both bills emerged as part of a nationwide reconsideration of the criminal justice system to help people leaving incarceration resume their lives and find jobs more easily. The bill will limit the circumstances under which a non-violent offender on probation can be sent to jail. It does not cap the length of a probation sentence. Judges can continue to “stack” probation sentences and impose probation after incarceration, the ACLU said. The bill also fails to provide an automatic or efficient way to end probation early, the group said. A judge will be able to order an end to probation, regardless of any agreement on a sentence between a prosecutor and the defendant. Judges no longer have wide latitude to extend probation. Probation is required to end unless defendants commit crimes that demonstrates they are a threat to public safety, have not completed certain treatment, or have not paid restitution. The bill also prohibits courts from extending someone’s probation for not paying fines or court costs if they are found to be unable to afford it.


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