Wiping the Slate Clean in Pennsylvania

On June 28, 2019, Pennsylvania introduced an automated computer program that is projected to seal 30 million criminal records within the next year. Those eligible for record sealing include individuals not convicted of crimes after charges were filed and those convicted of certain nonviolent misdemeanors 10 or more years ago. These misdemeanors include, but are not limited to, DUI’s, petty theft, and possession of controlled substances. In addition, more recent misdemeanors that resulted in less than two years in jail are eligible to be sealed.

This initiative is the result of the new “Clean Slate” law, which was passed in 2018 in the hopes of decreasing crime and stimulating the economy by adding to the workforce. While the automated record sealing system is receiving the most attention, the bill also laid out guidelines for filing limited access petitions, which is an option for some people who did not qualify for the automated process but are still eligible for record sealing or expungement.  This law is the first in the United States to automate the process of sealing records.

The driving force behind this piece of legislation is a woman named Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director of Community Legal Services of Philadelphia. In her work at CLSP, Dietrich noticed that many of the clientele were facing difficulties due to minor infractions, often from 10 or more years ago. Though CLSP handles hundreds of these cases every year, the organization has barely scratched the surface. Some of the eligible individuals were unaware of the possibility of expungement, or they had trouble navigating the appeal process. When Dietrich initiated the process of writing the bill, she found supporters in unlikely places, including football players and conservative Republican politicians. The bill was passed by Pennsylvania state legislation with only 2 individuals submitting “no” votes.

This widespread support can be attributed to the surprising fact that 1 in 3 Americans now have a criminal record of some kind. This criminal record creates barriers to accessing employment, housing, government assistance, and academic opportunities, even when the crime is considered minor. This in turn contributes to increased unemployment and poverty rates. When the records are sealed, they do not show up in standard background checks, although the record will still be visible to law enforcement. Nonetheless, this process will have a huge impact on people’s lives. Automating the process of record sealing will ultimately save on court costs associated with filing expungement petitions. It has also been theorized that record-sealing and expungement can actually decrease recidivism by allowing ex-offenders to re-integrate into society and obtain employment.

Other states have begun to follow in Pennsylvania’s footsteps. Utah passed a bill authorizing a similar automated process, and California, Connecticut, Arkansas and Delaware are considering the same type of legislative action. At Extract, we believe that automating processes saves time and money for government agencies, allowing employees to concentrate on tasks more suited for human intervention. Reach out today to learn more.

Sources:

https://www.nextgov.com/it-modernization/2019/06/pennsylvania-becomes-first-state-use-automated-system-expunge-criminal-records/158105/

https://www.governor.pa.gov/newsroom/governor-wolf-my-clean-slate-program-introduced-to-help-navigate-new-law/

https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2019/06/pennsylvania-clean-slate-law-seals-30-million-nonviolent-misdemeanor-criminal-records.html

Benefits of Record Expungement: https://www.recordgone.com/record-expungement-recidivism-cycle.htm


About the Author: Claire Means

Claire is a Database Development Specialist at Extract Systems. She started at the company as a document verifier, which gives her a unique understanding of the redaction software. Her attention to detail and high rate of accuracy prove her dedication to Extract’s success. Claire holds a certificate in Web Design from Madison College and her special interests include web analytics and search engine optimization.