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Dolly Prabhu

  • Hosted by Abolitionist Law Center
  • Sponsored by McDermott Will & Emery LLP
  • Service location Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
  • Law school University of Pittsburgh School of Law
  • Issue area Criminal Justice Reform
  • Fellowship class year 2020
  • Program Design-Your-Own Fellowship

The Project

Dolly aims to reduce the scope of probation in Pennsylvania through a combination of education, advocacy, and litigation.

Although probation is often viewed as an alternative to incarceration, data shows that it functions as a major driver of mass incarceration throughout this country. Populations under community supervision are overlooked when addressing mass incarceration, even though they make up the majority of jail populations and new prison admissions in many regions. Probation violations that cause people to be reincarcerated are often technical (non-criminal) violations, such as staying out past curfew, missing a meeting with a parole/probation officer, failing a drug test, associating with people who have criminal records or falling behind on paying court costs and other fees. Many people under community supervision also struggle with mental health or substance abuse issues—conditions that are exacerbated by constant reincarceration and which make it far more difficult to comply with parole or probation conditions. Dolly’s project seeks to shed light on the social impact of community supervision while also finding ways to challenge its overuse.

Fellowship Highlights to Date

During the first year of the Fellowship, Dolly has:

  • Expanded local Court Watch Program to observe and collect information on probation violation hearings.
  • Trained dozens of new volunteers for the Court Watch program.
  • Collected data on 600+ probation violation hearings.
  • Shared policy recommendations regarding pretrial incarceration with the state legislature.

Next Steps

In the next six months, Dolly plans to:

  • Assist with the development of a local pro bono probation detainer program.
  • Develop impact litigation aiming to reduce the size of the pre-trial population.
  • Publish an in-depth report on probation in Allegheny County.
  • Launch a local campaign to end the use of probation detainers in Allegheny County.


What would a less-policed Pittsburgh look like? A community coalition offers its vision

Gaskew to speak as part of online panel

The more I learned about probation and parole, the more I realized that these “alternatives” to incarceration keep people trapped in perpetual oscillation between restrictive supervision and reincarceration, ensuring that they never have the stability they need to break free from this cycle.

Dolly Prabhu /
2020 Equal Justice Works Fellow

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