Ramakrishna, Srinidhi

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  • Publication
    Reform in Name Only: The Difficulties of Dismantling Mass Supervision in Pennsylvania
    (2022-03-30) Ramakrishna, Srinidhi
    Pennsylvania has one of the highest rates of people on probation in the United States. Probation reform legislation has repeatedly emerged in the Pennsylvania legislature since controversy arose in 2017 over rapper Meek Mill’s long probation sentence. However, probation reform initiatives that would reduce the use of probation in Pennsylvania have been obstructed or amended to actually increase its use and severity. To understand what makes achieving such probation reform difficult, this thesis analyzes three significant roadblocks – the phenomenon of devolution and the actions of two advocacy groups. This thesis is grounded in ten interviews conducted with key actors whose work intersects with the Pennsylvania probation system. These interviews are analyzed alongside scholarly literature, reports from advocacy organizations, and news and legislative materials. The analysis finds that firstly, the consequences of devolution encourage funding probation departments, create entrenched stakeholders, and impede anti-carceral activist efforts. Secondly, the REFORM Alliance, a national advocacy organization particularly active in Pennsylvania, is complicit in punitive changes to the bills it endorses, excludes community organizers, and maintains a neoliberal alliance with the carceral state under the guise of reform. Thirdly, the Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association greatly shapes probation reform measures to be more punitive, benefiting from a political landscape in favor of tough-on-crime district attorneys despite some prosecutorial fragmentation. By identifying key institutional barriers, this thesis aims to assist efforts to end mass supervision in Pennsylvania.