It is the end of legislative session in Delaware, and many important bills passed that should make us all proud — Medicaid funding for abortion, repealing the death penalty, and passage of several fines and fees reforms. 

However, one major bill disappointingly did not pass: Senate Bill 4. This landmark legislation would have made significant changes to the probation system in Delaware, and dramatically decreased the number of people caught in the web of mass incarceration. 

While the bill did not pass this session, there are many things that advocates can notch as significant victories: 

  • Over 420 people took action and contacted their legislator urging them to enact probation reform. 
  • We conducted events in every county throughout Delaware, demonstrating statewide support for these critical reforms. 
  • In April, we held a lobby day with advocates meeting directly with their elected officials, several of whom pledged their support as a result of those important conversations. 
  • Our Smart Justice Ambassadors attended every event and legislative hearing to ensure that those with direct lived experience in the probation system were a part of the efforts to reform it. 
  • Family members who support probation reform were able to lend their voices to this campaign, ensuring that our movement reflected a diversity of experiences. 

Even with all this community action, there is still more work to do. While there was considerable public support for probation reform, there were last-minute objections by law enforcement, corrections officials, and victim’s services organizations that derailed the bill’s passage. To be clear, probation reform is essential for public safety—keeping people out of prison supports their rehabilitation and successful reentry to our communities.  

Many of the concerns raised by opponents of the bill echoed the long-standing and unfounded notion that having a less punitive criminal legal system will make our communities less safe. Yet decades of social science research and crime data show the opposite: “tough on crime” policies that lock people away, do not treat them as individuals, and do not address the underlying causes of crime are what make us less safe. The ramifications of these punitive policies have been disastrous, particularly for low-income communities, and Black and brown communities where people remain tethered to the criminal legal system through probation and parole.  

Additionally, this narrative erases the fact that many people on probation are also victims of crime. An unnecessarily punitive and disruptive probation system creates barriers to jobs, housing, education, and healthcare. These unnecessary obstacles both increase the risk of recidivism and make people navigating abusive relationships or other precarious situations more vulnerable to continuing harm. Fixing our probation system will help people on probation restart their lives successfully and safely. 

Despite the setback of not passing probation reform in 2024, we are not backing down. Delawareans deserve real justice reform, and we know that continued organizing, activism, and lobbying will deliver it. We will be back in legislative hall in 2025, continuing to push for these essential reforms. In the meantime, you can take action in a few key ways: 

  • Thank State Senator Marie Pinkney. As the prime sponsor of the bill, Sen. Pinkney shepherded probation reform through many difficult moments. We want to thank her, by encouraging you to fill out a thank you note here
  • Vote. Vote. Vote. Does your elected official support probation reform? We’re going to be asking all candidates for legislative office their stance and publishing their answers on Use their answers to be certain you and your network vote for people who represent your values. 
  • Join Us Soon. Our campaign will host an in-person meeting to discuss next steps and regroup for the upcoming legislative session. Keep an eye out on your email for more information soon. 

Losses can be tough to take, and while we are disappointed that probation reform did not pass this year, we know that it will pass soon due to dedicated and passionate activists like you. This is what social justice activism looks like: we lose, and build, and lose, and build, and keep that cycle going until one day we win. Keep building with us, and we’ll see you on that glorious day in the near future when we finally deliver a true justice win for Delaware.