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.

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.

PLSE Announces Inaugural Mike Lee Fellow

PLSE Announces Inaugural Mike Lee Fellow

November 14, 2018. Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that is has appointed JarueLawson as its inaugural Mike Lee Fellow.

The Mike Lee Fellowship in Criminal Justice is presented twice each year by PLSE to individuals who have (or have had) a criminal record, are interested in a career in criminal justice or community organizing, and have a commitment to social equity. For six months, Lee Fellows work alongside PLSE staff to engage with communities disproportionately affected by criminal records, and help PLSE better understand the challenges they are facing. Fellows will also propose a project to address an issue related to criminal records, which PLSE will support them in developing.

“We are very lucky to have Jarue as our first Mike Lee Fellow,” said PLSE Managing Attorney Zane Johnson. “His knowledge and experience give him deep insights into how we can best empower those facing the stigma that accompanies a criminal record. He will be a great resource for us and for the community.”

Mr. Lawson has a passion to help others and a personal understanding of the challenges people face when they have a criminal record. He is a Philadelphia native and 1995 graduate of Bartram Motivation High School, where he was an honors student. He then went on to study nursing administration and business management at Indiana University of Pennsylvania and Community College of Philadelphia respectively. During his 20 consecutive years of incarceration, he became passionate about social justice reform, activism, mentorship, and the role of identity in shaping one’s perspective and behavior. He currently works as a home healthcare aide, and in the past has worked as a certified tutor and in electrical maintenance, while receiving additional certifications in forklift operation and electronic technology.

“It’s important for people to understand that my story, like anyone else’s, is unique,” he said “Through reading, conversation with others, and self-reflection I realized that while people may share similar experiences, no two stories are the same. Understanding this fact helps me approach people without making assumptions, and with a genuine interest in who they are as a person. Taking the time to understand someone’s story, and the unique challenges they face, is the first step towards empowering individuals to reach their full potential.”

As a Mike Lee Fellow, Mr. Lawson will be a conduit for information between PLSE and the community. The Fellowship will also provide him with an opportunity to grow as a leader and share his perspective on the challenges people face when they’ve had contact with the criminal justice system. “In my experience, people who are not well informed get taken advantage of,” Jarue said. “We see that frequently in our justice system. This Fellowship gives me the opportunity to connect people with the information and resources they need, while also changing the way people think about what it means to have a record.”

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.