PLSE News: May 2019
To Our Friends and Supporters:
There is no doubt that PLSE is right in the center of many reforms that are pulsing through the criminal justice system, especially dealing with the legacy of mass incarceration that is hitting Pennsylvania so hard. Things are happening so fast that we are finding it difficult to keep our quickly-growing list of stakeholders, funders and partners up to date. So we’re starting an e-newsletter! Email us to let us know what you think of it, or what you want to read about. Thank you, as always, for your support!
New PA Board of Pardons Secretary Appears in PLSE Videos
Brandon Flood had not been Secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons for more than ten days before he agreed to help with our Video Project and be a Pardon Coach. On Saturday, April 20, eight people came to Drexel University to talk about what it was like to apply for a pardon and share their advice. Secretary Flood was one: he had been convicted of two felonies and served nine years in prison before being pardoned by Gov. Wolf. Award-winning TV news anchor and PLSE Board member Renee Chenault Fattah leads the Project and conducted the interviews; students from Drexel’s Dragon Productions directed the lights, cameras and action. We are now in the process of editing the tapes, with the hope of having 16 Youtube-style videos posted on our website before the end of summer. Thanks to the Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation for funding this project!
Long-Time Defender Rachel Miller Appointed Head of Expungement Project
PLSE held its first Criminal Records Expungement Project intake at Enon Baptist Tabernacle Church in February 2011. Since then, with just 1 or 2 attorneys on staff at any one time, we have helped over 3000 low-income Philadelphians expunge information from their criminal history records, filing a total of 2,914 expungement petitions on behalf of more than 650 people just in 2018, with a success rate of 99%. We can do this thanks in very large measure to an excellent working relationship with the staff of the First Judicial District, and more than 100 law student volunteers from Penn and Drexel who conduct intake and prepare draft petitions throughout the academic year. We were delighted last October when Rachel Miller joined us after six years of service as an attorney with the Defender Association of Philadelphia, and she was appointed head of the Expungement Project on May 10. We hired Robin Wynne as our first full-time paralegal, and are looking to hire another staff attorney to round out the team.
Lenfest Foundation Funds First-Ever Study of Economic Impact of Pardon Reform
Criminal records are undeniably a major factor in keeping people and families in poverty. With upwards of 60% of the adults living in some low-income, high-arrest neighborhoods having criminal records, and 87% of all employers checking (not always legally) on-line criminal records as part of the hiring process, it’s no wonder that City Solicitor Marcel Pratt has called removing criminal records “a critical and essential neighborhood investment strategy.” In a pathbreaking study proposed by PLSE and funded by the Lenfest Foundation, the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia is assessing the economic impact that pardons could have on low-income, high-arrest communities, as a part of workforce development initiatives. The initial results of the study are expected in September.
Unions, Trade Group, Bar Associations Join PLSE in Calling for Pardon Reform
It takes 3 years from the time someone files an application for a pardon to get a hearing before the Board of Pardons. On March 8, 2019, the Southeastern Pennsylvania Manufacturing Alliance, a multi-employer collaborative comprised of almost 60 regional manufacturers, became the first to adopt a Resolution that “endorse[d] the use of the Governor’s pardon power as an appropriate, powerful, no-cost means to attack persistent intergenerational and neighborhood poverty.” It called on the Lieutenant Governor, the Attorney General, and the Board of Pardons to reform the process “so that thousands of non-incarcerated Pennsylvanians can have their applications heard every year.” Since then, two leading unions – 1199C and UNITEHERE Local 634 – have adopted that same Resolution, and the Allegheny County Bar Association and Philadelphia Bar Association adopted pardon reform resolutions of their own. More are expected.