Lehigh County controller calls for probation reform

Written by on July 5, 2022

Lehigh County controller calls for probation reform

By Hayden Mitman
July 5, 2022

The Lehigh County Government Center. (Photo | Hayden Mitman/WLVR)

Lehigh County’s probation system brings in millions of dollars in fees. 

But it costs millions more to run. 

Listen to the story.

The county’s government watchdog has unveiled a list of sweeping changes that he says could save taxpayer money and reduce the time people spend on probation. 

Overall, law enforcement is by far the largest expense for the county. It eats up about 65%  of tax revenue. 

Lehigh County Controller Mark Pinsley says it’s time for reform. 

This year, probation services will likely cost more than $5 million, while the county only expects to collect about $1.7 million in fines and fees. Alterations to probation, he said, could reduce costs while maintaining community safety by targeting efforts on violent crime.

“We should be focused on those more violent areas. I’m not saying we ignore the low ones, obviously, but the money needs to be in the violent areas and we can then look at these lower level crimes and say, look, can we find less expensive and still successful ways to deal with this?” he said. 

Pinsley said about 80% of those on adult supervision are there for non-violent or misdemeanor offenses. 

“I’m just trying to reduce costs and have a better society,” he said. 

Pinsley, who is also running for state Senate, said too many low-income people get caught in the probation system after low-level, non-violent offenses. 

He suggested reducing the overall length of time people spend on probation, as well as  cutting related costs in fines and fees.

“You can’t afford the fine and then you’re going back on probation because you can’t afford the fine,” he said. “It just creates this cycle of need.” 

Instead, he said the county should invest in rehabilitation and recovery programs. 

A representative for the state court administration office, which oversees the probation system, wasn’t able to comment immediately, but said officials plan to respond after reviewing Pinsley’s proposal.

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