ALC Report: Probation drives incarceration in Allegheny County

Pittsburgh City Paper, 09/20/23: “A new report on probation in Allegheny County finds it to be a key driver of incarceration, significant racial disparities among those sentenced, and large costs imposed by court-ordered fines and restitution.

Analyzing data from publicly available dockets in the county court system, Court Watch, a project of the Pittsburgh-based public interest law firm the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), reported that the county’s Black residents, especially Black men, are “vastly” overrepresented among those sentenced to probation. Black men make up approximately 6.5% of county residents versus 42% of the supervised probation population. Compared to white defendants, Black defendants are also more likely to receive longer probation sentences, have probation revoked, and to be sentenced to incarceration rather than probation alone.

The report also shed light on the high cost of court fees, fines, and restitution — a court-ordered repayment to the victim of a crime. Individuals on probation in Allegheny County are ordered to pay an average of nearly $15,000 in restitution, though among the most commonly owed parties are corporations including Walmart, Giant Eagle, and Rite Aid — which carry insurance to cover retail theft losses — and tax-exempt nonprofits like Duquesne University and UPMC. ALC found that most fines and restitution are unpaid, something that can constitute a probation violation in Allegheny County.”

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