PLSE and Drexel partner to develop a mobile-friendly pardon application

PLSE partners with Drexel University in development of mobile app that has “major importance for the economies of cities”

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that it has been awarded a $10,000 grant from the Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation to develop a mobile-friendly web application for use in applying for pardons, and that Drexel University’s Department of Criminology and Justice Studies and the Drexel ExCITe Center will partner in the “Pardons App” project.

“PLSE started working with Lieutenant Governor Stack and the Board of Pardons in 2016 to help make Pennsylvania’s ‘Pathways to Pardons’ program more accessible to those with criminal records,” said PLSE’s executive director Tobey Oxholm. “Our vision has been to make the process less overwhelming to those who have earned forgiveness for their past crimes, and this grant puts that hope within reach.”

Current data suggest that at least one in five Philadelphians, or 340,000 people, have been convicted of crimes more significant than summary offenses, and those convictions can be erased from the public record only by a pardon from the governor. Often occurring decades earlier, while the offender was significantly younger and at a very different point in his or her life, the criminal record lasts forever, making it very difficult if not impossible to get accepted into trade schools or assisted care facilities, obtain credit, or get jobs or promotions to which they would otherwise be well qualified. It was recently estimated that over 80% of landlords use the publicly-available criminal record histories when doing background checks. Because poorer neighborhoods, largely minority, suffer disproportionately as a result of the high rates of arrest their residents experience, convictions have severe and long-lasting economic consequences not only for families, but for whole neighborhoods.

“This is a truly exciting development for the people of our Commonwealth,” said Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack who, as chairman of the state Board of Pardons, he made it clear that people deserve a second chance in life. “Any offense in Pennsylvania is pardonable for people who have truly turned their lives around and become productive citizens. PLSE, Drexel, and the Trustees of the Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation are to be commended for their vision, creativity and very practical approach to the issue of criminal record histories, which has major importance for the economic well-being of our cities.”

The Application for Clemency is daunting for the average Philadelphian, who has a fifth-grade education: fewer than 20% of the applications that are requested from the Board of Pardons are actually completed, and at least one-third of them get rejected for errors. PLSE’s goal is to develop a mobile-friendly web application, or “Pardons App,” that can be utilized by a wide variety of potential users on their mobile devices, independent of a specific platform, that will not just help but encourage the user to keep going, using the “level up” reward systems used in video games. Drexel University’s ExCITe Center – geared to creating “Expressive and Creative Interactive Technologies” – is perfectly positioned to lead this development, especially since Drexel already offers electronic portfolios for all of its students.

Read the full press release here.

PLSE files first 990, achieves Gold Seal from GuideStar

PLSE files first 990, achieves Gold Seal from Guidestar

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that it has earned the “Gold Seal” from GuideStar – the world’s largest source of information on nonprofit organizations. The GuideStar website includes a database of 1.8 million nonprofits, of which only 0.5% achieve the Gold Level. GuideStar allow users to benchmark organizations, verify charitable status, access compensation information, and interpret nonprofit financial data.

Qualifying for the Gold Seal required PLSE to post its IRS form 990 (for Fiscal Year 2017) on the GuideStar website and provide detailed information about PLSE’s programs, financials and governance. PLSE’s 990 can be found here.

“The Gold Seal marks our coming of age as a public interest law firm,” said PLSE Board Chair and co-founder Ryan Allen Hancock. “2017 was a banner year for us, as we obtained over 2,200 Orders of Expungement for our clients, received the Louis J. Goffman Award from the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation for our outstanding volunteer legal service to the poor, and were recognized by the Barra Foundation as an “exemplary nonprofit” because of our demonstrated leadership, adaptability and performance. This year, thanks to the financial support of new donors, we will be expanding our services into the area of pardons, which hold the promise of clean slates and new futures for our clients who have so demonstrably turned their lives around.”

The GuideStar report on PLSE can be obtained here.

PLSE’s 990 can be found here. Read the full press release here.

Renown Philadelphia Artist Russell Craig joins Board of the Criminal Record Expungement Project

Renown Philadelphia artist Russell Craig joins Board of Directors of the Criminal Records Expungement Project (C-REP)

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that nationally known painter and Philadelphia native Russell Craig has joined its Board of Directors.

In making the announcement, PLSE’s Board Chair Ryan Hancock said, “From its earliest days, PLSE has always understood that art can play a role in starting conversations, changing perspectives and inspiring action around the complicated human and social issues those artists portray. Russell’s leadership will take PLSE’s art & advocacy work to a new level, as we expand our efforts to organize communities around the the harms that criminal record histories cause long after the sentence is served, not just to the individuals, but to their families and communities for generations.”

The power of Craig’s art has been recognized by the Barnes Foundation under whose auspices Craig is now teaching art to formerly incarcerated men and women as part of new collaboration between the Barnes and Mural Arts Philadelphia’s “Restorative Justice” program. His artistic style and stirring imagery were developed during his seven-year incarceration. With little art materials available to him, he utilized his court papers to make his canvas. The large scale of his art is deliberate, forcing the viewer be confronted by Craig’s portraits upon entering the gallery. Through confrontation and contemplation, Craig’s pieces offer an opportunity to talk about the justice system in the United States, help unify all who have struggled through trauma, and advocate for positive change within ourselves and our communities. His work is currently being exhibited as “Blood, Sweat & Tears” at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, 1020 South Street, through April 29, and will be included in “State Goods: Art in the Era of Mass Incarceration,” a show beginning May 19 at the Andrew Freedman House in New York City.

“Having been personally helped by PLSE, I am really happy to be asked to help PLSE help others,” said Craig. “I am not defined by my criminal record. People change. PLSE is all about making society see people for what they are today, and giving everyone the chance to live to their potential. Everybody ought to be in favor of that.”

Craig is an alumnus of the Mural Arts Guild program who taught himself to read, write, and draw while incarcerated. He was one of the inaugural fellows for “Right of Return,” a program of the Open Philanthropy Foundation awarding formerly incarcerated artists $20,000 for a project addressing mass incarceration. He has also worked on “Voices,” a mural arts project within the Restorative Justice Program of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections that humanizes and empowers the voices of those who are or were recently jailed on criminal justice issues through creative expression.

The full press release can be found here.

PLSE hosts volunteer paralegal and attorney training

PLSE hosts volunteer paralegal and attorney training

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) with the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals (PAP) co-hosted a training program in criminal record expungement at Pepper Hamilton LLP on January 18, 2018. The training provided an overview of the creation, dissemination, and destruction of criminal records in Pennsylvania. More than 30 paralegals and 4 attorneys have now been trained in Philadelphia County expungement and sealing practices, and they will be assisting in filing more than 50 petitions before the end of January. This is the second training that PLSE has hosted on criminal record expungement for legal professionals, but the first time that PLSE offered CLE credit approved by the Pennsylvania Supreme Court.

If you are interested in attending a future training or becoming part of the volunteer paralegal and attorney program, please contact us at info@plsephilly.org.

PLSE at DC Drug Policy Summit

PLSE shares expertise on expungements and the effects of criminal records histories with National Drug Control Policy leadership

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) began 2018 with its Managing Attorney, Zane Johnson, going to Washington, D.C., with Lieutenant Governor Mike Stack and Board of Pardons Secretary Steven R. Burk, to discuss Pennsylvania’s “Pathways to Pardons” program. The summit was called by Richard Baum, Director of National Drug Control Policy, and was also attended by representatives of the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections and Board of Probation and Parole, and several high-ranking members of the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Lieutenant Governor Stack is the architect of “Pathways to Pardons” –the only such programs in the country. As he wrote when launching the program in 2015, “individuals with a history of substance abuse often have a past that is checkered by crimes they committed while suffering from addiction. Once fully committed to recovery, their criminal history, while not representative of the people they are today, continues to thwart their ability to lead fully productive lives by limiting their career opportunities, their ability to get jobs, and even their ability to get housing or financial credit.” For these citizens, expungements and pardons represent a pathway to a better life, for them and for their families.

“PLSE has worked closely with the Lieutenant Governor since the creation of Pathways to Pardons and has been a key partner as we have presented the program to the community,” said Secretary Burk. “Our meeting with federal officials in Washington demonstrated the importance of having at the policy table lawyers who share a passion for justice, expertise in expungement, and demonstrated success in persuading judges to release those once addicted to drugs from the heavy chains of their criminal records histories, so they can pursue their potentials.”

The group discussed the Pathways to Pardons program as a potential nationwide model to help Americans receive a second chance after accumulating a criminal record while battling addiction. A pardon is a forgiveness of crime and the restoration of rights and privileges lost as a result of the conviction, making it possible for a crime to be expunged completely from a person ‘s criminal record. In Pennsylvania, only the Governor can grant a pardon, and only upon the recommendation of the Board of Pardons.

“We look forward to working with PLSE in the coming year,” Secretary Burk continued, “with the objective of significantly reducing the time it takes to grant a pardon to those who have truly turned their lives around.”

About Pathways to Pardons

Pathways to Pardons brings together representatives from the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons, Department of Corrections, Board of Probation and Parole, and service providers to provide information on the pardon process. The program encourages individuals with past convictions to apply for a pardon to help them achieve a second chance at life.

The full press release can be found here.

PLSE announces new leadership

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity announces new leadership

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that Zane Johnson has been named Managing Attorney and that Carl (Tobey) Oxholm has been named interim Executive Director. These changes follow the appointment of PLSE’s founding Executive Director, Mike Lee, to the position of Legislative Director by Philadelphia District Attorney Larry Krasner.

“This change in leadership could not have come at a better time for PLSE,” said Ryan Hancock, Chair of the organization’s Board of Directors. “While we are sad for PLSE that Mike Lee is leaving, we are truly excited by knowing there will be meaningful criminal justice reform under the leadership of the city’s new District Attorney. PLSE will do all that it can to support those efforts, and we are indeed fortunate to have such talented individuals already with PLSE to carry forward Mike’s many accomplishments without missing a beat.”

A graduate of Temple University’s Beasley School of Law, Zane began his service with PLSE as one of thirty-three Equal Justice Works AmeriCorps Legal Fellows nationwide. Working primarily on the Criminal Records Expungement Project, Zane has taught and supervised scores of volunteers as they performed intakes and prepared petitions for hundreds of PLSE clients. Last year alone, he personally represented more than 350 clients, filing over 1625 expungement petitions on their behalf, with a success rate of over 98%. He also helped launch a new partnership with the Philadelphia Association of Paralegals whose members will provide pro bono assistance, potentially allowing PLSE to double the reach of its expungement services. In addition to his work with PLSE, Zane works as a facilitator for Good Shepherd Mediation’s Juvenile Offender Diversion Program and sits on the board of the nonprofit organization, Art for Justice. As managing attorney, he will be responsible for supervising PLSE’s Criminal Record Expungement Project and Fair Employment Opportunities Project, and managing relationships with community partners.

Tobey Oxholm has been a fixture of Philadelphia’s public interest community for decades, having served as Chief Deputy City Solicitor and a Trustee of Community Legal Services for twenty years, and having co-founded three volunteer legal service organizations: Philadelphia VIP, the Consumer Bankruptcy Assistance Project, and the Homeless Advocacy Project. He has received many awards for exemplary public service to underserved communities, including the American Bar Association’ Pro Bono Publico Award, the Pennsylvania Bar Foundation’s Lifetime Achievement Award, and the Philadelphia Bar Association’s Bar Medal. He began his service with PLSE as a volunteer staff attorney in September 2016. As the interim Executive Director, he will serve as the chief admini- strative officer, lead the organization’s development efforts, and help launch the new Pardons Project.

The full press release can be found 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.