DOVER — On Tuesday June 6, the ACLU of Delaware’s Smart Justice Campaign hosted a Lobby Day at Legislative Hall in Dover to engage in conversations with elected officials about Delaware's urgent need for probation reform. Advocates urged legislators to support Senate Bill 4, legislation sponsored by Sen. Marie Pinkney and Rep. Melissa Minor-Brown, that aims to eliminate systemic barriers that prevent those recently released from prison from successfully rehabilitating.
Over 10,000 Delawareans are subject to the extreme obstacles that the state’s current probation system presents — for many, these obstacles prove insurmountable, fueling Delaware’s staggering recidivism rate. Delaware remains the state with the highest incarceration rate in the northeast corridor, with rates higher than CT, MD, NY, PA, DC, and most other states on the east coast.
“We’re here today because reforming Delaware’s broken probation system can’t wait anymore. Our current system focuses on surveillance and punishment rather than rehabilitation,” said John Reynolds, ACLU-DE Deputy Policy and Advocacy Director, “By customizing probation conditions, limiting the use of incarceration for minor rules violations, and capping probation terms at 12 months, SB 4 takes an important step towards making Delaware safer while also supporting individuals’ successful completion of probation.”
Over the course of the day, advocate groups led by ACLU-DE Smart Justice Ambassadors (SJAs) and Smart Justice Coalition partners like Delaware Center of Justice met with 9 legislators from both parties to seek their support for SB 4. SJAs and other individuals with lived experiences were able to share their own stories about Delaware’s probation system, and provide legislators with firsthand accounts of the challenges people on probation and their families face after incarceration.
“Achieving the basic stability of things like housing, transportation, medical care, and employment can feel impossible,” expressed SJA, Julia Keleher, “On top of this,we’re also navigating reporting requirements, meetings, costs for treatment, curfews, and constant surveillance. These obstacles drive a revolving door between probation and prison that has serious consequences for the wellbeing of entire communities.”
Sen. Pinkney wrapped up the day by meeting with advocates to provide insight into the crafting of SB 4, ask for feedback on how the legislation can be improved, and how she can best support advocates’ work moving forward.
Senate Bill 4 currently awaits a hearing in the Senate Corrections & Public Safety Committee. Criminal legal system reform advocates are hopeful that the bill will make it through the Senate before the fast-approaching end of the legislative session on June 30, leaving it primed for full passage in 2024. Community members who would like to get involved in advocacy efforts can start by sending a message to their legislator asking for their support in moving Delaware towards a better system.
“Spreading awareness about the need for systemic reform through channels like Lobby Day gets us closer to a real chance for people on probation to succeed,” said Kailyn Richards, Director of Policy at Delaware Center for Justice, “If we change Delaware’s probation system, we change lives.”