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December 05, 2015

You can no longer buy your way out of community service in Pennsylvania

Legislation bans practice of exchanging gift cards for nixed sentences

A new bill signed into law by Governor Tom Wolf Friday bans the practice of people sentenced to community service in Pennsylvania buying their way out of the sentence.

The legislation was introduced by Senator John Gordner (R-Columbia) after he discovered a legal loophole being exploited in Northumberland County.

Between 2002 and 2008, Gordner says the county probation department was allowing defendants to buy gift cards, which were given to the department and in turn donated to local charities, in return for nixed community service sentences.

In 2014, it was discovered that $4,000 in unused gift cards were sitting in a safe at the department.

This prompted a judge to order the practice be stopped, but Gordner found there wasn't anything on the books preventing this type of exchange happening in another county.

“When researching this issue, we determined that there was nothing in law to prevent this practice,” Gordner said in a news release after the bill passed the House of Representatives.

He says the practice benefited defendants who could afford to pay for the gift cards over those who weren't as well off.

Gordner also explained to PennLive that he believed when people are assigned to community service, there's usually a reason for it.

The legislation bans not only gift cards but other forms of payments instead of carrying out sentenced service, inluding money orders, checks, and "any other means of remuneration."

It goes into effect in 60 days.