PLSE Releases Report on First Year of Pardon Project

PLSE Releases Report on First Year of Pardon Project

August 6, 2019. Nearly one year after the launch of the Pardon Project, PLSE has reviewed all of its efforts and what has been achieved in this first year of the project in a brand new report. The report highlights how we have redefined the pardon issue alongside efforts in administrative reform and community outreach. While much remains to be done, the significant reforms that have already been made – thanks to the leadership of recently-elected Lt. Gov. John Fetterman and recently-appointed Board Sec. Brandon Flood – are generating new hope among those with criminal record histories and creating new partnerships with professional and community organizations willing to help them.

Read the full report here.

PLSE Newsletter: July 2019

PLSE Newsletter: July 2019


Help us get our new fiscal year off to a great start!

Contribute $200 to support a client’s expungement
or $5,000 to sponsor an expungement clinic helping as many as 100 client – or anything inbetween!

 

Expungement Project Ends Best Year Ever, Begins Next Record-Breaking Year

PLSE’s very first Criminal Record Expungement Project intake was held in February 2011 at Enon Baptist Tabernacle Church. So many people came asking for help with their records that it took our volunteer attorneys, plus many helpers from the church, two days to get to everyone.

Eight years later, with just a staff of two for most of the year and almost 100 volunteer law students, we gave 55 community presentations on criminal records, held 47 intake sessions for expungements, accepted 1,115 low-income clients into our expungement project, and filed over 2,200 expungement petitions with a success rate of over 99%.

Our next expungement intake clinic will be on Monday, August 5, from 1pm-4pm at the Institute for Community Justice, 1207 Chestnut Street, 2nd Floor. Click here for all upcoming clinic dates.

Akeem Sims with a client

Volunteers Attend Pardon Hearings in Harrisburg, Witness History Being Made

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons holds public hearings four times each year to consider applications for clemency – pardons and commutations of sentences and parole. The hearings are held in the majestic, and very intimidating, Supreme Courtroom, with dozens of people watching. On May 29, our student interns and several members of our Pardon Project Steering Committee attended to learn more about the Board members’ concerns, so that we could better advise Pardon Project clients and volunteer guides about the pardon process.

Not only did our team have the opportunity to speak with Board Secretary Brandon Flood (pictured), but they saw history being made: for the first time ever, the Board of Pardons endorsed every application for a pardon, making only a few subject to conditions. Zero applicants were denied! This is just another sign that the Board, under the chairmanship of Lt. Gov. John Fetterman, is taking a brand new approach to what a pardon means.

PLSE Staff in Harrisburg

Today’s Tip: Pardon Applications and Juvenile Records

For over a year, PLSE has been urging the Board of Pardons that they should stop asking applicants about their juvenile records, which enters that information on to the public record. Not only are these cases often decades old, but the law says they are supposed to be confidential! Although we have not yet succeeded in removing this question from the application, the Board has agreed that it does not need to know about any criminal record that has been expunged.

If you believe that you may have a juvenile record or arrest in Philadelphia, call the Defender Association juvenile expungement hotline at 267-765-6770 and see if you are eligible to have the case expunged!

Akeem Sims
Glenn Barnes

PLSE Board Elects Two New Members

At its quarterly meeting in June, the PLSE Board of Directors said thank you and goodbye to one of its longest-serving members, Jennifer Sperling – one of PLSE’s original directors who is now a public interest lawyer in Los Angeles – and to one of its most famous, artist Russell Craig – who taught himself art while an inmate in Graterford Prison and just received a fully-funded scholarship from the Ford Foundation to attend Bard College in New York City!

Taking their places on the Board are Akeem Sims, a very active member of the Pardon Project Steering Committee and presenter at several attorney continuing legal education programs on the pardon process. We also welcome Glenn Barnes, an attorney and an award-winning professor at Peirce College (now retired) and poet who has been volunteering with PLSE in several capacities over the past years, including reviewing expungement petitions, helping with the Pro Bono Paralegal Project, and editing grant applications.

Click here to read more about PLSE’s Board of Directors – a truly remarkable, engaged, and diverse group.

Three ways you can help:

  1. Sponsor a client’s expungement for $200 or an entire clinic for $5,000!
  2. Invite us to speak with a community organization about becoming a Pardon Hub
  3. Write the Board of Pardons and urge them to stop asking pardon applicants for their confidential juvenile court records: Honorable Brandon J. Flood, Secretary, Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, 333 Market Street, 15th Floor, Harrisburg, PA 17126-0333

Want to do more or learn more about the work we do? Write us at info@plsephilly.org or call us at 267-519-5323.

Click here to see the full newsletter.

Understanding Clean Slate and Expungements

Understanding Clean Slate and Expungements

On June 28, 2019, a law called “Clean Slate” went into effect across Pennsylvania. This law does not actually “clean,” or erase, anything. Over the next year, it will “seal” cases automatically and expand what is eligible for “sealing” by a court order. In a nutshell, “sealing” means it will hide eligible case information from public view, including the UJS Portal. This law expands on an older version of the law, and the great part about the automatic sealing is that you will not need to hire a lawyer or pay for the service.

Clean Slate does not change what is seen by the police, prosecutors, or organizations using the FBI database for background checks (such as schools, hospitals, and casinos). Clean Slate is also very complicated; it does not apply in many cases. If you would like to know if you are eligible, we strongly recommend that you request a review of your case here from Community Legal Services.


You can learn more about the new law here.

To have something really cleared off your record permanently, and not just hidden, you need to get an expungement. If you have been convicted of a crime – basically, any misdemeanor or felony ending with a guilty verdict or guilty plea – then you will need a pardon from the Governor to remove it from your record. Clean Slate does not change any of these processes.


If you are unsure whether you are eligible for an expungement of your record, come to an expungement clinic where a volunteer will
review your record with you one-on-one.

Generally speaking, the following situations are eligible for automatic sealing:

  • criminal charges that were dropped, dismissed, or withdrawn and did not end in a conviction (guilty verdict or guilty plea):
  • convictions for all summary offenses and some 2nd and 3rd degree misdemeanors (M2, M3):
    • only if you have not been arrests or convicted within the past 10 years; and
    • only if you have paid off all fines and fees on the relating conviction.

As you can see, Clean Slate is complicated and also has many other exceptions. If you want to know whether you are eligible, you should request a review for your sealing eligibility.

For expungements, the following situations are eligible:
  • If you have any charges ending in a nonconviction (e.g., dismissed, withdrawn, nolle prossed), regardless of whether they were a sumamry offense, misdemeanor, or felony;
  • If you completed an ARD or other diversionary program;
  • If you have a summary offense plus 5 years without any arrests or convictions; or
  • If you are over 70 years old plus 10 years without any arrests or convictions.
Resources:

Inaugural Mike Lee Fellowship Report

Report on the Inaugural Mike Lee Fellowship

Tobey website

On October 1, 2018, the inaugural Mike Lee Fellow, Jarue Lawson, began working with PLSE. A Philadelphia native, Jarue was an honors student throughout his schooling. He briefly went to Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Community College of Philadelphia. He worked at multiple jobs and ran the streets (guns and drugs), leading to his incarceration. He was a certified tutor for 6 years while incarcerated, a dedicated reader, and constantly engaged in real conversations about identity and serving people. Jarue’s plan has always been to serve his community, which is something he learned from family, particularly his mother and oldest sister.

Over the course of the Mike Lee Fellowship (which was created and is funded by Friends of Mike), Jarue’s outreach efforts led to him meeting and speaking with more than 300 people impacted by criminal records. In addition to attending intake clinics for PLSE’s Criminal Records Expungement Project, Jarue represented PLSE at a number of community and partner events around the city. Some highlights were:

  • Oct 5, 2018: Beyond the Walls Prison Summit, hosted by Philadelphia FIGHT!
  • Oct 24, 2018 & Jan 30, 2019: Quarterly Stakeholder Meetings of the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition
  • Nov 3, 2018: College & Career Fair at Beloved St. John Evangelistic Church, in Wyoming
  • Nov 9, 2018: Grant interview with the Patricia Kind Family Foundation
  • Nov 10, 2018: Community Job Fair at Prince of Peace Baptist Church, in Strawberry Mansion
  • Dec 20, 2018: Board of Pardons Hearing, in Harrisburg
  • Apr 10, Apr 16, & May 2, 2019: Councilperson Cherelle Parker’s Town Hall Meetings, in Northwest Phila.
  • Apr 22, 2019: Interview with Renee Chenault Fattah on WURD Radio
  • May 15, 2019: Resource Fair hosted by SELF, Inc., in Ludlow
  • June 8, 2019: Expungement Clinic hosted by Diversified Community Services, in Point Breeze

Jarue was creative with how he incorporated the Fellowship into his daily life. He became a Mike Lee Fellow six months after being released from 20 years in prison, which meant that on top of working for PLSE, he was also searching for stable employment and housing. He was offered a job with Amazon’s delivery service since they do not run criminal background checks on employees. Jarue reported that he often saw other men who were inside of prison with him, and so Jarue would talk with them about their options for clearing their criminal records, employment rights, voting rights, and other related issues. He always took PLSE’s flyers to every event he attended in his community. Even though his Fellowship has ended, Jarue reports that he continues to get calls about criminal records and to share his story and experiences.

“The staff at PLSE was fully engaged with the fellowship and they were honest with me about what they felt my role should be. Everything we discussed came true. My networking possibilities and job opportunities have increased and my experience in these various nonprofit spaces was rich. The most important thing to me is being able provide a resource to the people and have it be meaningful. PLSE does work that the community needs and being provided a chance to be a part of that has pushed my life forward in ways I can’t quantify!” – Jarue Lawson

During his time with PLSE, Jarue has proven to be a valuable liaison between the community and the organization. He demonstrated a dedication to and passion for meeting others where they are and informing them on their rights. His presence at events, often as PLSE’s sole representative helped PLSE build and maintain not just presence but partnerships in affected communities. The next Mike Lee Fellow starts in October.

– Read more about the Mike Lee Fellowship here.
– Download a PDF of this report here.
– For questions about the fellowship, please contact Katherine Zuk, Director of Communications & Outreach.

Board of Pardons Releases “Revolutionary” New Application

Pardon Board Releases “Revolutionary” New Application,
Sets New Standard For Clarity And Access

June 11, 2019. The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons today posted on its website a new and almost completely redesigned Application for Clemency that promises to make pardons far more accessible for the average citizen.

A year ago, the application was 20 pages long, included 3 government forms and 12 pages of instructions, and was written in difficult to understand, official terms. The new form is half as long, and written in words much more commonly used. It eliminates most of the ways mistakes were made in the past (no longer asking, for example, that applicants copy numbers appearing on attached documents). It also gives the applicant the choice of whether or not to include a personal statement, and makes it clear that an applicant does not have to include information about any criminal charges that a judge has expunged (erased) from the applicant’s record – a requirement that had received strong objections from the Philadelphia and Allegheny County Bar Associations, among others.

“Under the leadership of Lieutenant Governor John Fetterman and Secretary Brandon Flood, the Board of Pardons has, within just a few short months, put the possibility of a pardon within the reach of thousands of Pennsylvanians, especially those who are unable to afford an attorney,” said Rochelle M. Fedullo, Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association. “This revolutionary new form was unanimously adopted by the Board of Pardons. That fact speaks volumes about the Board’s shared commitment to redefine what a pardon means – not just to individuals and their families, but to whole communities.”

The presidents of the Workforce Development Boards of both Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have recently confirmed that “criminal records are undeniably a major factor in keeping people and families in poverty.” Marcel Pratt, Philadelphia’s City Solicitor, has recognized the importance of pardons to entire communities that have been afflicted by persistent poverty: “For us, in Philadelphia,” he has said, “removing criminal records is not just the right thing to do for individuals, and not just the right thing to do for their families: it is a critical and essential neighborhood investment strategy. We have to get people working at their highest and best levels. And best of all, removing their stigma costs us nothing – it’s entirely free.”

“If people see a pardon as a viable option, they will continue to be productive citizens,” Secretary Flood has said. “My own story shows them there’s a light at the end of the tunnel. I thank Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity for its persistence in pushing us to re-examine our processes and to make the many reforms that are included in this new application. I am confident it will make all the difference to thousands of Pennsylvanians who have turned their lives around.”

Read the full press release here.

PLSE Opens Search for Executive Director

PLSE Opens Search for Executive Director

May 21, 2019. Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that it has begun a nationwide search for its next permanent Executive Director. The search is expected to be concluded before the end of the summer.

“This is the perfect time for our organization to welcome our next permanent Executive Director,” said Ryan Allen Hancock, Chair of PLSE’s Board of Directors. “Over the past eighteen months, we have attracted many new foundations and individuals as contributors, tripled our revenues, doubled the size of our staff, and developed a large and dynamically diverse Board of Directors who are passionate about our mission and engaged in our work. We are working with the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons to develop new pathways to pardons, expanding our Expungement Project to North Philadelphia, and training law firms and non-profits to provide neighborhood-based criminal record-clearing services – all in a city that is leading the nation in the depth, breadth and speed of its efforts to rethink and reform the criminal justice system. It’s a very exciting time for us.”

Founded in 2010, PLSE provides free legal representation to low income Philadelphians whose criminal records are holding them back from achieving the housing, jobs, and other benefits for which they are qualified, and from contributing their full potential as members of their families and communities. The services include seeking expungements in criminal court and pardons from the Governor, educating elected, business and other community leaders about the unintended damage caused by criminal history records, creating community-based Pardon Hubs, and empowering under-resourced communities to seek a greater voice and needed systemic reforms. PLSE is a recipient of the 2018-2019 Barra Award as an Exemplary Non-Profit Organization, and is recognized by the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey as providing services crucial to ending inter-generational poverty.

“Depending on how quickly our next Executive Director comes on board,” continued Hancock, “she or he will be able to participate in the hiring of a new attorney and paralegal, the development of three new Pardon Hubs that are already in process, and the creation of a strategic plan. This is an exceptional opportunity for an experienced public interest advocate to assume the leadership of an organization that is widely respected, well-financed, and rapidly expanding to meet a critical public need.”

PLSE will accept and review applications until the position is filled. It expects to begin interviewing candidates the week of June 12 and to have the new Executive Director in place by September 3. The current Interim Executive Director is expected to remain with PLSE as an independent contractor, assisting with fundraising and the development of the Pardon Project. More information on the position is available on the PLSE website’s dedicated page.

Download a PDF of this press release here and download a PDF of the position description here.

Staff Attorney Rachel Miller named Director, Expungement Project

Staff Attorney Rachel Miller named Director, Expungement Project

May 10, 2019. Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that Staff Attorney Rachel L. Miller has been named Director of the Criminal Records Expungement Project and that Robin Wynne has been hired as the organization’s first staff paralegal.

“Rachel Miller is almost uniquely qualified to lead our Expungement Project,” said Tobey Oxholm, PLSE’s Interim Executive Director. “For her entire legal career, she has helped low-income Philadelphians who are involved in the criminal justice system, gaining invaluable experience and developing relationships with people who have spent decades in Pennsylvania state prisons. She is quick to gain their trust, very effective in court, and well-respected by prosecutors and judges alike.” Immediately prior to joining PLSE in October 2018, Miller had served with the Defender Association of Philadelphia for four years as a trial attorney and thereafter as a mitigation specialist for two years, working in the Juvenile Lifer Unit.

“I know firsthand how important expungements are for those seeking better jobs, housing, education, credit and other opportunities, and the insurmountable obstacles that criminal records add to the already difficult circumstances lower income Philadelphians face,” said Miller. “The elimination of criminal records is an essential strategy for dealing not just with the legacy of mass incarceration, but with poverty. I look forward to being at the forefront of this important project.”

The appointment of Robin Wynne marks the first time that PLSE has had a paid paralegal position. “Private law firms have long known how effective paralegals are in maximizing the efficiency of attorneys,” said Oxholm. “Robin impressed us with her passion for helping people, and she is a great addition to our team.” Wynne received her Associate of Applied Science in Paralegal Studies degree from the Community College of Philadelphia and is a recipient of its Paralegal Studies Award. The position is made possible by a grant from the Pennsylvania Interest on Lawyer Trust Accounts (IOLTA) program.

These staff changes come at a time when PLSE is rapidly expanding in size and adopting a community-based approach to attacking the inter-generational harm that criminal records cause individuals, families and whole neighborhoods. In just two years, it has more than doubled in size and taken on a leadership role statewide in reforming the pardon process. With the support of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, PLSE is creating its first two “Pardon Hubs” in Philadelphia by which community non-profits can help residents apply for pardons. PLSE expects to hire two more attorneys and another paralegal in the near future.

Read the full press release here.

PLSE Recruiting Two Full-Time Staff Attorneys

PLSE Seeking Two Full-Time Staff Attorneys

May 10, 2019. PLSE is hiring! We are looking for two full-time staff attorneys who are barred and ready to practice in Pennsylvania. The positions are currently open and we will accept applications on a rolling basis until they are filled.

Read more about the position here. If you have any questions, please contact info@plsephilly.org.

PLSE, Board of Pardons Partner in Creating a Pardon Video Library

PLSE and Board of Pardons Partner in Creating a Video Library to Help Applicants for Pardons

         

Pictured (L-R): Eric Patterson, successful applicant for a pardon; Renee Chenault-Fattah, former television news anchor and PLSE Board Member; Board of Pardons Secretary Brandon Flood; and M. Zane Johnson, Managing Attorney of PLSE

April 22, 2019. Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that, with the assistance of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, it had completed a full day of videotaping people who shared their experiences in applying for a pardon. The applicants, who are being called “Pardon Coaches,” included Brandon Flood, recently appointed Secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, who himself was a successful applicant for a pardon.

“Creating a video library to help people who are considering applying for a pardon is a terrific idea,” said Secretary Flood, “and I was absolutely delighted to be asked to serve as a Coach. My hope is that more people will see from these videos that a pardon is a real option for them, and they will continue to be productive citizens.” Flood had been convicted of two felonies by the age of 22, served nine years in state prison, and received his pardon when he was 36.

“All of the people who came out today to share their stories and their wisdom were simply terrific,” said Renee Chenault Fattah, well-known Philadelphia television news anchor who conducted all of the interviews. “A few of the Coaches shared what they did wrong and why they thought their applications had been rejected, while others explained what they thought they did well. But the bottom line for everyone was, ‘You can do this!’ For me, it was an inspirational day.” Chenault-Fattah is a member of the PLSE Board of Directors.

Funding for the PLSE Video Project was provided by the Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation. Students in Drexel University’s Film and Television Program recorded and will be producing the videos, a dozen of which are expected to be completed and posted on PLSE’s website by July.

Read the full press release here.

Announcing Study on the Impact of Pardons in Low-Income/High-Arrest Communities

Lenfest Foundation Announces Study on the Economic Impact of Pardons on Low-Income/High-Arrest Communities

April 8, 2019. The Lenfest Foundation announced today that it will fund a study by the Economy League of Greater Philadelphia of the economic impact that pardons could have on low-income, high-arrest communities, as a part of workforce development initiatives.

“We have heard, from workforce development agencies across the state, as if with one voice, that criminal records are undeniably a major factor in keeping people and families in poverty,” said Dr. Keith Leaphart, Board Chair of the Lenfest Foundation, in announcing the award. “At a time when every state has to deal with the after-effects of mass incarceration, we need to understand the economic implications that criminal records have not just on families, but on the economy of the communities in which the returning citizens live. We thank Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity for bringing this key public policy issue to our attention.”

Earl Buford, Chief Executive Officer of Partner4Work, the workforce development agency for Pittsburgh and Allegheny County, wrote in support of PLSE’s proposal: “We know from working with individuals that their records are preventing them from getting jobs that are available and for which they are qualified. For some, these are professional jobs in accounting and health care; but even at the trades level, a criminal record stops them from enrolling in training programs or taking the examination that leads to a state license. We see these individuals facing career barriers each day, losing income and hope.”

“In so many cases, our efforts to place individuals into jobs that pay a living or family sustaining wage, for which many of them are qualified, are thwarted by the existence of a criminal or even an arrest record,” added H. Patrick Clancy, President and CEO of Philadelphia Works, Inc., which serves as Philadelphia’s Workforce Development Board. “In our City, living wages equate to the first step out of poverty.”

“There is simply no doubt that fiscal responsibility is an urgent justice issue,” said Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner. “With respect to pardons, erasing the mark of incarceration may have a tangible economic impact. This type of research might inform potential solutions from government at the state and local level, including making re-entry easier for justice-involved individuals and communities. We look forward to working with the Economy League in this study.”

The study is expected to be concluded by September.

Read the full press release here.