WILKES-BARRE — Gov. Tom Wolf this week praised the bipartisan focus on reforming Pennsylvania’s probation and parole systems.
Bipartisan legislators joined criminal justice reform advocates, including the REFORM Alliance, to announce an upcoming bill to overhaul probation and parole in the commonwealth.
“Just like the clean slate bill, Pennsylvania can lead the nation with bold bipartisan reforms to probation and parole,” Wolf said. “We have seen too many cases where long-tail probation terms trap individuals in the criminal justice system, even if they are never convicted of another crime. This hurts their families, their communities and our economy.”
Wolf went on to say: “We must address the high human and financial costs of both incarceration and supervision. Doing so will deliver cost savings and better outcomes that ultimately reduce crime and strengthen our workforce. We need to make our criminal justice system fairer, more equitable and more focused on rehabilitation.”
To continue leading the nation on criminal justice reform, Wolf wants to:
• Pass and implement the Justice Reinvestment Initiative, or JRI 2, to address the high cost of incarceration in the state, to strengthen support for county probation programs, and to fix inadequate sentencing guidelines.
• Reform the pre-trial system to make certain that those accused of a crime have access to competent legal counsel and a reasonable bail system.
• Reform the post-trial criminal justice system to ensure work towards rehabilitation of individuals and preparation to reenter society, rather than creating further risks for recidivism.
• Focus on probation reform to ensure the right individuals have the right level of supervision and technical probation violations do not mean an immediate return to incarceration. This works hand-in-hand with first ensuring sentences are commensurate with the severity of crimes committed.
Pennsylvania’s bipartisan criminal justice reform efforts in recent years have led to consecutive years of lower prison populations, all while crime has also fallen. Some of these reforms include:
• A fair-chance hiring policy for state agencies that removes the criminal conviction question, otherwise known as “banning the box,” from non-civil service employment applications for agencies under the governor’s jurisdiction.
• A “Clean Slate” bill, the first of its kind in the nation, to help those who have committed low-level offenses and have paid their penalty get back on the path to a blemish-free record, removing potential roadblocks to jobs, housing, health care, and education.
• Act 95 of 2018, which eliminated driver’s license suspensions for non-driving infractions.
• Act 146 of 2018, which extended the time a convicted individual has to file a post-conviction relief action to one year, from what was 60 days under current law.
• Act 147 of 2018, which updated Pennsylvania’s DNA testing law to reflect significant advances in technology and the lessons learned by criminal justice professionals since 2002. The legislation removed the supervision requirement that only people serving a sentence can apply for DNA testing.
PennDOT survey seeks
feedback on winter services
The Pennsylvania Department of Transportation (PennDOT) is accepting winter services feedback through an online survey.
• The public can take the survey through May 7 at https://www.surveymonkey.com/r/PennDOTWinter.
“We are proud of our winter operations and communications,” PennDOT Secretary Leslie S. Richards said. “This survey will help measure public expectations and identify educational opportunities.”
The 10-question survey asks how often respondents travel during poor weather, how they rate PennDOT’s winter service, and how they rank snow-removal priorities.
Respondents are also asked how they receive PennDOT roadway information, and whether or how they use the state’s 511PA traveler information services.
During the winter, www.511PA.com offers its standard traffic and incident information while adding PennDOT plow-truck locations, winter roadway conditions, and other services.
At any time, motorists can check conditions on more than 40,000 roadway miles by visiting www.511PA.com. 511PA, which is free and available 24 hours a day, provides traffic delay warnings, weather forecasts, traffic speed information, and access to more than 860 traffic cameras.
511PA is also available through a smartphone application for iPhone and Android devices, by calling 5-1-1, or by following regional Twitter alerts accessible on the 511PA website.
As construction season begins, information on projects occurring or being bid this year is viewable at www.projects.penndot.gov. Visit the “Regional Offices” page at www.penndot.gov to sign up for travel alerts in a specific area.
Department of Aging launches online volunteer sign-up form
This week the Department of Aging launched a new online volunteer sign-up form for recruiting volunteers to serve older Pennsylvanians.
April is recognized as National Volunteer Month and, with more than three million individuals age 60 and over, a thriving volunteer network is essential for the delivery of aging services.
“I sincerely encourage anyone with interest in volunteering to fill out this new web form,” said Acting Secretary of Aging Robert Torres. “If volunteering isn’t something you are currently able to commit time to, please share the sign-up form with anyone you know who may be interested in serving the senior population.”
There are many opportunities statewide for volunteers through Pennsylvania’s 52 Area Agencies on Aging (AAA), including:
• APPRISE – Medicare Insurance Counseling.
• Long-Term Care Ombudsman.
• Home-Delivered & Congregate Meals.
• Senior Companion Program.
• Foster Grandparent Program.
• Retired Senior Volunteer Program.
• Family Caregiver Support Program.
• Health and Wellness.
• Senior Community Centers.
After the department receives completed volunteer sign-up forms, it allocates them to the appropriate AAA. If there is no need in a given county, the department will work with neighboring counties to place volunteers who’ve indicated they are willing to travel.
In addition to the form, the department released a short video about APPRISE volunteers and how they help beneficiaries make the best possible decision for their needs. As a result of the APPRISE volunteer workforce, over 195,000 individuals received free, impartial insurance counseling in 2017-18
100,000 medical marijuana
patient certifications issued
The Wolf Administration last week announced that approved doctors have issued more than 100,000 patient certifications to allow patients with serious medical conditions access to the state’s medical marijuana program.
“Realizing 100,000 patient certifications and seeing the first Phase II grower and processor operationalized is a testament to the hard work of the Department of Health, the many advocates for this program, and our General Assembly who passed this legislation nearly three years ago,” Wolf said. “It’s progress that is making a difference in the lives of many Pennsylvanians.”
Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine said medical marijuana is an important tool for patients and physicians to treat one of the 21 approved serious medical conditions in the program.
“It’s important for patients to remember that their certifications expire, and they have to visit an approved doctor to renew it,” Levine said. “While many certifications are for 12 months, some may be for three, six or nine months, so it is important to talk with your doctor to set up your re-certification appointment.”
In addition, the department approved the first Phase II medical marijuana grower/processor — FarmaceuticalRx, LLC, located in Farrell, Mercer County — to begin operations, bringing the total number of operational grower/processors to thirteen. In order to become operational, each grower/processor and dispensary must complete an operational checklist and go through multiple site inspections.
More than 131,000 patients in Pennsylvania have registered to participate in the medical marijuana program, and close to 102,000 have received their patient certification and are able to purchase medical marijuana at a dispensary. In addition to patients, more than 1,500 physicians have registered for the program, 1,099 of whom have been approved as practitioners. More than 780,000 dispensing events have occurred at medical marijuana dispensaries across Pennsylvania, with more than 2.2 million products sold.
The medical marijuana program was signed into law by Wolf on April 17, 2016.
For more information about the medical marijuana program, visit www.medicalmarijuana.pa.gov or follow the Department of Health on Facebook and Twitter.