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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 reduced the scale of probation in Pennsylvania through education, advocacy, and litigation.

Although probation is often viewed as an alternative to incarceration, data shows that it actually functions as major driver of mass incarceration throughout this country. The populations under community supervision are often 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 and/or substance use issues—conditions that are exacerbated by constant reincarceration and make it far more difficult to comply with parole or probation conditions. Dolly’s project sought to shed light on the social impact of community supervision and find ways to challenge its overuse.

Fellowship Highlights

During the two-year Fellowship, Dolly:
  • Expanded local Court Watch Program to observe and collect information on probation violation hearings
  • Trained dozens of new volunteers for Court Watch program.
  • Collected data on 2000+ probation violation hearings
  • Shared policy recommendations regarding pretrial incarceration to the state legislature
  • Developed large-scale impact litigation seeking to protect the due process rights of individuals on probation
  • Published a report detailing some of the failings of Allegheny County’s probation system

Next Steps

Dolly will continue her work at the Abolitionist Law Center as a full-time Staff Attorney.

Media

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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