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 or call us at 267-519-5323.

Click here to see the full newsletter.

PLSE News: June 2019

PLSE News: June 2019


Pennsylvania Board of Pardons Logo


Diversified Community Services Logo


Akeem Sims (right) helping with expungement intakes at DCS


Mike Lee (left) and Jarue Lawson (right)


Judge Karen SimmonsJeff Brown

PA Board of Pardons Adopts Key Reforms Advocated By PLSE, Greatly Expanding Access To Pardons

Unlike other states, if you are ever convicted of a crime, your conviction will be part of your criminal record forever – unless you get a pardon from the Governor, which can only happen with the positive recommendation of the statewide Board of Pardons. PLSE has been working with the Board of Pardons for more than a year, urging them to revise the application form and process, which takes around three years and resulted in less than 10% of those purchasing the application ever receiving a hearing. PLSE’s persistence has paid off! In February, the Board of Pardons eliminated all application fees, put the application online in a format that can be downloaded and completed with computer, and eliminated the requirement to attach copies of records that took many months and dollars to obtain. On May 29, the Board issued an entirely new form. Adopting many of PLSE’s recommendations, it is much shorter and easier to understand. Most importantly, the Board agreed with PLSE to stop asking about any criminal charges that had been expunged, or erased, from the applicant’s record by order of a judge. The changes were called “revolutionary” by the Chancellor of the Philadelphia Bar Association.

Read more about the new form.

PLSE Begins New Partnership With Diversified Community Services

Diversified Community Services (DCS) is the largest social service agency in Point Breeze. Serving nearly 8,000 children, youth, adults, and families, it emphasizes education and skill-building and works towards long-term economic and social well-being. Thanks to funding from the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ), PLSE held its first Criminal Records Expungement Project community education and intake program at DCS on June 8. Over 50 people from the community came by to learn about criminal records and the opportunities for getting them cleaned up. “I am so excited about this development,” said Dr. Nikia Owens, Managing Director, Financial Empowerment for UWGPSNJ. “DCS is a great example of how a very diverse community can come together to offer programs and volunteers to help with a wide variety of needs. We are thrilled PLSE has connected with DCS, and our hope is that other United Way-funded agencies follow their lead.”

See our upcoming clinics.

Inaugural Mike Lee Fellow Completes Fellowship

Jarue Lawson joined PLSE last October as the first-ever Mike Lee Fellow in Criminal Justice. Created in honor of PLSE’s co-founder and first Executive Director and funded by his friends, the Mike Lee Fellowship is awarded 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, the Fellow works alongside PLSE staff to engage with communities disproportionately affected by criminal records, representing PLSE within the community and helping PLSE better understand the challenges they are facing. Jarue attended more than a dozen meetings sponsored by a variety of organizations all around Philadelphia, helping inform people about criminal history records, how they hurt people and neighborhoods, and what can be done to eliminate them. Read the full report on his activities. PLSE will open a search for its next Mike Lee Fellow in August.

Support a Mike Lee Fellow!


At the Annual Meeting of PLSE’s Board of Directors, Philadelphia Judge Karen Yvette Simmons was elected Vice Chair of the Board, and Jeff Brown, founder and president of Brown’s Super Stores, was elected Treasurer.

See the full list of PLSE’s Board of Directors.

Three ways you can support PLSE:

Questions or comments? Email us or call us at 267-519-5323.

PLSE News: May 2019

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!


Brandon Flood at PLSE Video Shoot Day


Rachel Miller hard at work


Lenfest Foundation logo



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.

Three ways you can support PLSE:

Questions or comments? Email us or call us at 267-519-5323.