PLSE Receives Leadership Grant From The Philadelphia Foundation

Philadelphia Foundation Awards First-Ever Grant to PLSE

January 9, 2019. The Philadelphia Foundation announced today that it has provided a $10,000 Leadership Development Grant to Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE). The grant was announced by Pedro A. Ramos, the foundation’s President and CEO.

This is the first grant the foundation has awarded to PLSE. It was supported by the William J. McCahan 3rd Fund in Memory of Thomas C. McCahan and Florence M. McCahan. The grant is intended to strengthen organizational capacity and nonprofit leaders in the areas of governance, planning, civic engagement, and board and staff development.

“The timing of the grant could not be better for us,” said Tobey Oxholm, PLSE’s Interim Executive Director.

Within the span of the past year, PLSE has appointed a new executive director, hired two new staff, started a student internship program, and greatly expanded and diversified its Board. It also more than doubled its annual budget, raised more than $100,000 in donations for the first time since its founding in 2010 and attracted first-time support from several well-known foundations in addition to the Philadelphia Foundation.

Over the same one year period, PLSE also instituted a variety of best practices, including independent reviews of its financials and Form 990, and achieved a Gold Seal rating from GuideStar. Perhaps most significantly, it launched its new Pardon Project this past October, which is expected to start connecting PLSE with workforce development, public health, social service and religious institutions in low-income/high-arrest neighborhoods throughout the city that give communications and volunteer management very high priority.

“I want to thank the Philadelphia Foundation for its confidence in PLSE as we push forward on so many fronts to help our neighbors overcome the stigma that comes from past interactions with the criminal justice system,” said M. Zane Johnson, PLSE’s Managing Attorney. “If we are to reach our potential as a society, we need to give everyone the chance to reach his or her individual economic and personal potentials. At a minimum, we need to stop branding people forever as a ‘criminal’ based on decisions they made on their worst day, and allow them to find better jobs, housing and credit, and create better lives for themselves and their families. This Philadelphia Foundation grant will really help us develop and leverage our assets to maximum advantage.”

Read the full press release here.

PLSE Founder Ryan Hancock Receives Bar Association’s Highest Award for Volunteer Service

Ryan Hancock, PLSE Co-Founder and “Exemplary Volunter,” Wins Philadelphia Bar Association’s Highest Honor for Volunteer Attorneys

December 5, 2018. Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that Ryan Allen Hancock, Of Counsel to the firm of Willig, Williams & Davidson, has received the Philadelphia Bar Association’s PNC Achievement Award. The Award “honors significant accomplishments in improving the administration of justice.”

The Bar Association’s announcement noted that “Hancock has dedicated his career to helping low-income Philadelphians overcome past criminal convictions through pro bono litigation and the cofounding of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, where he has served as board chair since its beginning. PLSE has become widely recognized for helping Philadelphians expunge criminal records that can hinder them from attaining employment, housing and other benefits for which they are otherwise qualified. In 2009, the first criminal record expungement clinic took place and was attended by over 300 people. In 2018, PLSE is launching the Pardon Project, a system that will allow for the filing of thousands of pardon applications for individuals who have turned their lives around and are being held back by past criminal convictions.”

Hancock received several nominations for the Achievement Award. One was from Marieke Tuthill Beck-Coon, Director of Litigation of the Foundation for Individual Rights in Education. She wrote about “[t]he comprehensive scope of Ryan’s dedication to promoting employment opportunities in communities burdened by over-policing, over-incarceration, and the resultant oppression of criminal records.” Michael Hardiman, currently a Commissioner with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission who worked with Hancock for eight years at the Commission, noted Hancock’s ever-present “willingness to help others” and “strong commitment and persistence” to “vigorously enforcing existing statutory rights … [and] in advocating for changes to our processes … in order to more effectively and efficiently protect individual rights.”

Joining them in nominating Hancock for the Award was Mike Lee, who co-founded PLSE and was its first Executive Director. Describing PLSE’s growth from a simple idea to a successful statewide model, Lee wrote, “Without fail, as our workload expanded so did Ryan’s pro bono time. No task is above Ryan. From copying orders to calling clients, Ryan made time to nurture the non-profit and mentor me … His compassion for people is only matched by his legal talents as an attorney.” Tobey Oxholm, PLSE’s current interim executive director and a former winner of the Award, wrote: “Simply put, Ryan Hancock is a truly exemplary volunteer, amazing for his vision, energy and commitment and the countless hundreds of hours he has served pro bono with and through this organization that he founded … [yet] virtually no one knows of him or his service.”

“I was speechless when I was told, and am humbled by the recognition,” said Hancock. “We who are so privileged to be lawyers are really the ones who benefit from pro bono service. Every time I volunteer, without fail, I am amazed by what our clients manage to push through and get over each and every day, and I leave inspired and energized by their examples. I accept this Award in their names, and with renewed commitment to give my best to help create a truly equitable society.”

Read the full press release here.

Fels Fund Awards Social Justice Grant to PLSE

Fels Fund Awards Social Justice Grant to PLSE

October 22, 2018. Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that the Samuel S. Fels Fund has awarded PLSE a Social, Racial and Economic Justice Grant in the amount of $20,000. The grant is intended to support PLSE as it expands beyond criminal record expungements into a new area of critical importance to low-income Philadelphians – pardons – and develops related outreach, education and organizing programs in partnership with established community organizations.

“We see how mass incarceration of people of color harms so many families and neighborhoods, but we had not focused on how criminal record histories continue to devastate our communities of color long after people have served time. Now that we’ve talked with PLSE, we understand the importance of expungements and pardons,” said Sarah Martinez-Helfman, President of the Fund. “The Fels Fund is thrilled to be able to support this critical work.”

An estimated 60% of those living in minority and low-income neighborhoods have been arrested at least once and therefore have criminal record histories that are publicly available, for free, over the internet. In Pennsylvania, a court order is required before anything can be expunged (erased) from an arrest record, even if the charges were dropped or the person found not guilty. Only a pardon from the governor can erase a conviction, even if it was for a misdemeanor that happened many decades ago. PLSE has helped over 3,000 low-income Philadelphians obtain expungements, with a success rate of over 98%. This month, with the support of the Fels Fund and others, PLSE is beginning to train volunteers to help low-income Philadelphians obtain pardons for crimes they committed over a decade ago.

Data show that over 80% of all employers consider criminal records as part of background checks when considering applications for employment or promotions. That percentage is even higher for credit agencies, landlords and schools. Parents with criminal records are frequently disqualified from volunteering in their communities, coaching their children’s sports teams, or even going on school trips.

“It’s crushing that what someone was charged with 10 or 15 years ago, very often when they were young adults, can completely wipe out everything that person has done since then to improve themselves, even if they have accepted responsibility,” said Martinez-Helfman. “We need to address unjust systems as we work to repair individual lives.”

“For those of us who are involved in social justice work in Philadelphia, support by the Fels Fund is the mark of excellence,” said Ryan Hancock, one of PLSE’s co-founders and chair of its Board of Directors. “For more than 80 years, Fels has focused on improving the daily lives and futures of average Philadelphians. We are very proud to have the Fels Fund recognize us for making a big difference.”

Read the full press release here.

PLSE receives a grant from the Philadelphia Bar Foundation

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity receives first-ever grant from the Philadelphia Bar Foundation

The Philadelphia Bar Foundation, Philadelphia’s only foundation dedicated to strengthening the delivery of civil legal aid, announced today that Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) will receive a 2018 Philadelphia Bar Foundation Grant.

Founded in 1964, the Bar Foundation seeks to remove barriers to justice, engage the community to support legal aid, and build system-wide capacity. It provides annual grants and other support that allow its legal aid nonprofit partners to provide vital services for tens of thousands of people across the Philadelphia region who are facing civil legal obstacles.

This is the first time that the Philadelphia Bar Foundation has made an award to PLSE, and PLSE is the only first- time recipient included this year, according to the Bar Foundation’s Executive Director Jessica R. Hilburn-Holmes. “PLSE is a hidden gem,” she said. “It files and prosecutes more criminal records expungement petitions than any other organization in the United States, by leveraging the volunteer work of lawyers, law students, paralegals and technology. It’s an excellent model of how our legal community can work together to help those who are desperate for legal help, but cannot afford it. We are delighted to be able to add PLSE to our very impressive list of nonprofit partners.”

“On behalf of the thousands of people whose lives will be changed by better jobs and better housing when their criminal record histories are expunged, I thank the Philadelphia Bar Foundation for this great vote of confidence,” said attorney Ryan Allen Hancock, Chair of PLSE’s Board of Directors and Chair of the Employment Law Department of Willig, Williams & Davidson.

“It has been estimated that twenty-five percent of all Philadelphians have criminal records, and most if not all of us have biases about criminal records,” Hancock continued. “As attorneys, we have an obligation to recognize these biases and provide our clients not just legal expertise, but also hope and confidence that they need to keep going. The Philadelphia Bar Foundation Grant recognizes the difference we are making in the lives of our clients, our profession and our City. I hope it will be the emblem we need to attract more support, so that we can expand our program and help more people, improving our society for everyone.”

About The Philadelphia Bar Foundation

The Philadelphia Bar Foundation is dedicated to promoting access to justice for all people in the community, particularly those struggling with poverty, abuse and discrimination. It accomplishes this mission by providing grants and technical assistance in support of quality legal services, addressing unmet legal needs and providing education on matters in the public interest. To learn more about the Philadelphia Bar Foundation’s annual grant awards, visit their grants page.

The full press release can be found here.

PLSE receives Barra Foundation award for 2018-2019

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity wins 2018-2019 Barra Award; Recognized as an “Exemplary Nonprofit Organization”

Barra Award Recipient The Barra Foundation announced today that Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) is a recipient of a Barra Award for 2018-2019. The Barra Awards provide unrestricted operating support to “exemplary nonprofits demonstrating leadership, adaptability and performance.”

Founded in 1963, the Barra Foundation seeks to fuel innovation. As its President, Kristina Wahl, explains, “Innovation for Barra is about creating the conditions for idea generation, testing novel approaches to well-defined problems, and sharing lessons learned about what works and what doesn’t.” In presenting the Barra Awards this year, she said of its recipients, “The Awards provide the organizations with some financial breathing room and their leaders with opportunities to learn from their peers—a diverse and inspiring network of entrepreneurial thinkers from across the nonprofit sector.”

“On behalf of those who founded PLSE in 2010 and who have been so energetic and innovative in its first seven years, especially Mike Lee who has served as its Executive Director and managing attorney since its beginnings, and staff attorney Zane Johnson who has allowed us to expand our reach so greatly over the past two years, I thank the Barra Foundation for this great honor,” said attorney Ryan Allen Hancock, Chair of PLSE’s Board of Directors and Chair of the Employment Law Department of Willig, Williams & Davidson.

“We have to change the narrative about criminal records from being a prejudicial character stigma, to being just a record of past government action that should expire in appropriate circumstances,” Hancock notes, “Convictions are static; people change. It is in the best interest of everyone, including the City and its many communities, as well as the defendants and their families, to allow each of us to reach our potential as a productive, contributing, tax-paying member of society. The Barra Award will inspire and give us new energy to continue expanding the reach and the breadth of our programs.” These programs include the development of a new, community-based, technology-supported process for applying to the Governor for pardons by those whose post- conviction lives demonstrate true rehabilitation.

About The Barra Foundation

The Barra Foundation invests in innovation to inspire change that strengthens communities in the Greater Philadelphia region. Through its Catalyst Fund and Barra Awards, the Foundation provides approximately $4 million in annual grants that are focused on supporting innovation in and across the fields of arts & culture, education, health, and human services. To learn more about the Barra Awards program, click here.

The full press release can be found here.

PLSE wins Pa Bar Foundation’s prestigious Goffman Award!

PLSE wins Pa Bar Foundation’s prestigious Goffman Award!

The Philadelphia Lawyers For Social Equity will be recognized by the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation for our commitment to training, supervising, and supporting Pro Bono service in Pennsylvania. The presentation from the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation to take place Wednesday, May 10, in Pittsburgh at the annual meeting of the Pennsylvania Bar Association.

Click here for more information about the Goffman award and the Pennsylvania Bar Association’s annual meeting.