Media Contact

Casira Copes
Communications Director

April 29, 2024

ACLU-DE staff and probation reform advocates pose with SS 2 for SB 4 sponsor Sen. Marie Pinkey at Legislative Hall.

DOVER, DE —Members of the ACLU of Delaware’s Smart Justice campaign, including ambassadors and reform advocates, met with legislators last week to urge support for Senate Substitute 2 for Senate Bill 4 (SS 2 for SB 4), legislation that would reform Delaware’s probation system to better support rehabilitation and reduce the prison population. 

Delaware’s current probation system imposes strict requirements that do not consider the varied circumstances each individual faces when they are released. This results in many people failing to complete their probation sentences, despite their best efforts to reenter society successfully. Currently, Delaware reincarcerates people on probation for minor technical violations — things like being late to an appointment, or not being able to afford fees for mandatory programming — even if they haven’t committed any new crimes or posed any threat to public safety. 

SS 2 for SB 4, sponsored by Sen. Marie Pinkney, aims to eliminate these barriers to successful reentry and transform Delaware’s probation system into one that emphasizes rehabilitation and support rather than excessive surveillance and punishment. The bill ensures that people on probation won’t be sent back to prison for honest mistakes or factors outside of their control by restricting the use of incarceration for technical violations and limiting the maximum incarceration length that may be imposed.  

“Repeatedly incarcerating people for small technical violations creates a revolving door between probation and prison that undermines rehabilitation efforts and increases Delaware’s high incarceration rates,” says Vonda Smack, ACLU-DE campaign manager. “People who are doing their best to get back on their feet shouldn’t be sent back to prison when they have already served their original sentence and haven’t committed any new crimes or posed any risk to anyone.” 

The bill would make probation sentencing more tailored to the individual, taking into account what they were sentenced for, what resources they will have when they are released, and other factors that will help ensure any probation requirements that are imposed make sense for the person and aren’t needlessly difficult or punitive. If passed, this bill will benefit every person who is serving a Delaware probation sentence — especially those who struggle to meet unnecessarily strict requirements that have no relation to the crime they were sentenced for. 

“For the 10,000 people currently under state supervision, Delaware’s probation and parole system can often feel like a maze of complicated hurdles and inflexible rules that many people feel are impossible to navigate,” said Sen. Marie Pinkney, chair of the Senate Corrections & Public Safety Committee. “Thanks to community advocates like the ACLU of Delaware, our state has made real progress in recalibrating our justice system to be safer, fairer and more equitable for all Delawareans. Now we need to continue that work by refocusing community corrections on helping people turn their lives around rather than forcing them to overcome more unnecessary barriers to a second chance.” 

Supporters of the bill also note its importance in addressing racial disparities in the probation system. Black Delawareans make up only 23% of the general population, but almost half (48%) of those on probation. 

“We want to see more people successfully reenter our Delaware communities, but that requires a system that actually sets people on probation up to succeed,” says Javonne Rich, ACLU-DE policy & advocacy director. 

More information about the issues with Delaware’s probation system can be found in a 2020 report released by the ACLU of Delaware: Delaware’s Broken Probation System: The Urgent Need to Reform Community Supervision in the First State.

View Photos from Lobby Day