Opinion: Calling for immediate passage of SB 838’s probation reforms

(Photo: Paul Brady/Shutterstock.com)

By Sappho Fulton

December 8, 2023

In an op-ed for the Keystone, Sappho Fulton discusses her experience as someone who was formerly incarcerated and calls for the immediate passage of SB 838’s probation reforms.

My organization, Womxn Beyond Borders, was founded to support, empower, and uplift folks who are too often left out of politics.

I firmly believe that there should be no policy decision made about us without us. I’ve led groups to Harrisburg to fight for reforms that safeguard basic human rights for LGBTQIA+ persons and work every day to foster a nurturing environment that addresses the unique challenges faced by these communities.

In a big city like Philadelphia – where I live and my organization is based – or a big state like Pennsylvania, it’s too easy for our voices to get lost, even when there’s a debate around laws that are essential to our community’s safety and wellbeing.

While much of our work focuses on queer issues, there’s another community we serve – people impacted by the criminal justice system. And there is often a lot of overlap. Members of the LGBTQ+ community are incarcerated at three times the rate of straight people. Gay, lesbian, and bisexual people are 2.25 times more likely to be arrested than heterosexual people. Lesbian and bisexual women are four times more likely to be arrested than heterosexual women.

As someone who was formerly incarcerated, recovering from addiction, and a survivor of complex trauma, I was technically freed from the grips of the criminal legal system 18 years ago. But despite my best efforts, including earning several degrees, I still can’t access a high paying job or build the life that I deserve because of my criminal record.

I am 59 years old. There are many other similarly situated women, with dreams and goals like everyone else, who are held back by a criminal legal system that does not truly offer us a path to redemption and integration. We have been doing our very best within this system, but it’s become time to change it.

I’ve observed the debate going on about probation reforms at the state capitol. I’ve seen that Senate Bill 838, legislation with bipartisan support, has already passed the Republican-controlled Senate, received unanimous votes in both the House judiciary and the second reading on the House floor, and is now just awaiting its final vote in the House. If passed, this bill will create a presumption for early termination of probation, limit when someone can be re-incarcerated for technical violations, and require courts to consider an individual’s specific needs when imposing probation conditions. This is a profound, positive change that we need now.

With just a few legislative days left in 2023, I am begging our lawmakers in Harrisburg to move this bill over the finish line. I’m tired of politicians sitting on the sidelines while needlessly letting good folks suffer in the meantime.

Let’s get this done and keep pushing for much needed changes to our criminal justice system. Our voices need to be heard and amplified so our elected leaders understand the real impact of their actions or, in this case, inaction. I join my voice with so many others calling for immediate passage of SB 838’s probation reforms.


  • Sappho Fulton

    Sappho Reynan Fulton is a formerly incarcerated, recovering addict and a survivor of complex trauma, business owner and CEO who focuses her work on ending domestic violence. Through Womxn Beyond Borders, she provides resources to those impacted by violence.


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