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Lawmakers re-introduce probation and parole reform legislation in effort to reduce recidivism

Delaware Legislative Hall
Delaware Public Media
Delaware Legislative Hall

Delaware lawmakers re-introduce a large probation and parole reform bill aimed at creating a more flexible system for justice-involved individuals.

The bill is State Sen. Marie Pinkney's (D-Bear) third iteration, but the substituted version upholds her overall goal of looking to reduce recidivism rates by modernizing rules and conditions for those on probation or parole.

Pinkney says the bill will make probation more of a service to the people that are on it by enforcing the least restrictive measures needed to fulfill their supervision guidelines.

"We are not saying that people do not need to have measures and responsibilities around their probation — there should be expectations of how they'll continue to reenter society, but we don't want to overburden people with more than is necessary," Pinkney says. “If we put too much on a person, if we over prescribe them with probation requirements, it actually becomes more harmful.”

The bill would limit imposing additional prison sentences on individuals who make a technical violation of their probation or parole, meaning other than under special circumstances, they could only be reincarcerated for intentionally avoiding supervision, violating a no-contact order, possessing a firearm or being arrested on a new felony or misdemeanor.

The special circumstances could be if the person on probation or parole is found to have repeatedly consumed alcohol or controlled substance while under supervision for a DUI, deliberately violated curfew or interfered with home confinement equipment.

In those instances, sentences of incarceration would be limited to five days for a third violation, 10 days for a fourth violation, and up to 21 days for each subsequent violation.

“[We're] trying to mostly make it so that people are not being returned to prison as a first measure and that we are using prison as the last resort when necessary," Pinkney says.

She also notes how the bill will specifically help people of color who have historically, and continue to be, overrepresented in the criminal justice system.

"A lot of that can be traced back to racism throughout our country's history, and a lot of it can also be traced back to issues of access, issues of opportunity, issues of support within communities of color," she says. "We think often about probation violations and a return to prison as something that is the best option, when sometimes it's not. Sometimes we just need to connect people to the services that they need in order to be successful, and that's in the bill."

Pinkney says by making these modifications to the probation and parole system, the state can get at the root cause of recidivism and look for solutions.

“The probation officer has to make every effort to connect a person to the services that they need so that they would have been successful. We have to figure out what is going on with people and why they are violating.”

Pinkney says while the Department of Corrections doesn’t agree with all aspects of the bill, it has been thoroughly engaged in conversations over the past three years and she has worked to implement some of its feedback.

Although the bill does not currently have any Republican sponsorship, she says Senate Minority Leader Brian Pettyjohn (R-Georgetown) has reached out to begin conversations and agrees changes need to be made in some capacity.

The bill was reported out of the Senate Corrections and Public Safety Committee in 2023 and now awaits consideration in the Senate Finance Committee, and Pinkney is confident the bill will be heard within the coming weeks.

Before residing in Dover, Delaware, Sarah Petrowich moved around the country with her family, spending eight years in Fairbanks, Alaska, 10 years in Carbondale, Illinois and four years in Indianapolis, Indiana. She graduated from the University of Missouri in 2023 with a dual degree in Journalism and Political Science.