Pennsylvania passes groundbreaking Clean Slate law

Jul 06, 2018 No Comments by

Last week, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf signed the nation’s first Clean Slate bill, designed to reduce barriers to employment and housing for people with criminal records and passed by the state’s legislature with broad bi-partisan support.

The Clean Slate law allows automatic sealing of criminal history records related to charges that resulted in non-convictions, and second or third-degree (i.e., least serious) misdemeanor offenses that included a prison sentence of less than two years, if a person has remained conviction-free for 10 years.

In addition to the automatic record-sealing, individuals may petition the courts to seal records for an offense that resulted in a year or more in prison provided they remain free from conviction for 10 years and have paid all court-ordered financial debts.

The legislation does not allow for record-sealing of more serious crimes, such as firearms charges, sexual offenses, murder, kidnapping, and child endangerment, for example. Nationally, the FBI reports that violent crimes accounted for about 12% of total arrests in 2016.

In his presentation at our national conference last week in Nashville, Michael Hollander, Supervising Attorney in the Employment Unit at Community Legal Services in Philadelphia, explained that automatic record-sealing offers a much more cost-effective method for removing the stigma of low-level convictions and enabling individuals with these records to pursue employment based on the merit of their qualifications and experience. Among the rationales for the new law is research demonstrating that individuals who remain crime-free for three to four years after a nonviolent conviction are no more likely to recidivate than the general population is to be arrested.

Regarding implementation, Michael noted that automatic record-sealing is feasible in states that maintain a central database, and that the new law governs only electronic, not paper, records.

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