I believe in the power of second chances.
In 2004, I was sent to prison, where I would spend the next 10 years of my life, four of them in solitary confinement. As part of my sentence, I was ordered to serve five years on probation following incarceration. Earlier this month, after 15 years under the control of the criminal justice system, I finally earned my freedom.
- The Probation Trap: Lenient sentences in Pennsylvania often have harsh consequences
- Philadelphia shoplifter’s 7-year prison sentence for a probation violation was improper, appellate court says
- NYC has flipped the idea of what a probation office should look like — and its vision seems to be working. Can Philly learn a thing or two?
Let me be clear: I take full responsibility for my actions and recognize that what I did was unequivocally wrong. But if my time in prison and under supervision showed me anything, it’s that we must draw a line through what is a fair punishment. And our current criminal justice system is not fair.
That's why I'm calling on Pennsylvania to implement reforms to its probation system immediately.
Our system is designed to fail. It’s ineffective and costly, and accomplishes little in deterring crime. Instead of receiving support or incentives for good behavior, thousands of Pennsylvanians are in jail every day because of supervision violations over minor parole violations that have no impact on public safety.
Writing people up for minor infractions like missing an appointment or returning home late forces them to start their progress all over again, essentially trapping them in the system for far longer than necessary. This revolving door has devastating impacts on our communities, families, and overworked probation officers, and costs taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars every year.
I witnessed this revolving door firsthand. My transition back into society after prison was rocky, and the probation system did not provide me with the tools I needed to become a productive citizen and be there for my kids. I lived in constant fear that if something happened to one of my children at college in New York, leaving the state to deal with an emergency would send me back behind bars. Over the past five years, every time my phone rang, I was certain it was bringing the news that I was headed back to prison.
That’s how it is for thousands of Pennsylvanians like me, who’ve paid their debt to society and have earned an opportunity to move on with their lives. And that’s partly why Pennsylvania has a higher incarceration rate per capita than several western nations.
Despite the barriers I faced on probation, I can proudly say that I’ve transformed my life in ways I never thought possible. Today, I’m a business owner and a criminal justice reform activist. The latter has been made possible by the REFORM Alliance, which has provided me with the support I didn’t receive from the criminal justice system and a platform on which to push for smarter justice policies.
I’m working with REFORM to pass HB 1555 and SB 14 in Pennsylvania because I know the barriers to success faced by people who’ve been caught in the system. These bills, both under consideration in the legislature, will create sensible, evidence-based changes to our probation system that make the commonwealth’s communities safer and end the revolving door of incarceration for people who’ve served their time and done what’s been asked of them.
This legislation incentivizes good behavior through earned time credits, prevents people from being thrown back in jail for certain noncriminal violations that don’t impact public safety, saves taxpayer dollars, and reduces the probation population by helping people get the reentry services they need to lead productive, law-abiding lives.
As someone who’s landed on his feet after spending years in the system, my story doesn’t have to be unique. I’m fighting for these reforms because I believe that everyone deserves a second chance and should be treated like human beings. But until we fix the flaws in our broken system, too many people will continue to cycle through our prisons thanks to harsh punishments that don’t fit the crime.
We should be providing support to former inmates so they have the opportunity to get their lives back on track. We can only do that by addressing the problems in our probation system immediately. By coming together to pass probation reform, Pennsylvania lawmakers can make the commonwealth safer and more prosperous, and give countless families hope for the future.