Reform in Name Only: The Difficulties of Dismantling Mass Supervision in Pennsylvania

Thumbnail Image
Penn collection
CUREJ - College Undergraduate Research Electronic Journal
Degree type
probation reform
community supervision
mass incarceration
criminal justice reform
social policy
anti-carceral activism
celebrity activism
prosecutorial power
elite-grassroots tensions
historical institutionalism
REFORM Alliance
Marie Gottschalk
Political Science
Social Sciences
American Politics
Civic and Community Engagement
Criminology and Criminal Justice
Inequality and Stratification
Law and Politics
Law and Society
Law Enforcement and Corrections
Politics and Social Change
Public Policy
Social Control, Law, Crime, and Deviance
Social Policy
Sociology of Culture
Grant number
Copyright date
Related resources

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.

Date Range for Data Collection (Start Date)
Date Range for Data Collection (End Date)
Digital Object Identifier
Series name and number
Publication date
Journal title
Volume number
Issue number
Publisher DOI
Journal Issue
Recommended citation