United Way Funds PLSE’s First Two Pardon Hubs

United Way Funds PLSE’s First Two Pardon Hubs

August 27, 2018. Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) announced today that it had received a $10,000 contract from United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) to develop the first “Pardon Hubs” as part of United Way’s Income and Financial Stability Community Impact Program.

In this new partnership, PLSE will select two of UWGPSNJ’s Philadelphia agencies that are located in low-income, high-arrest neighborhoods. Those agencies will be taught about the creation and dissemination of criminal records, the intergenerational damage they cause to individuals, families and communities, and how those records can be erased through expungements and pardons. The agencies will then become “Pardon Hubs,” helping neighbors through those processes.

PLSE will hold community information sessions and conduct two client intake sessions per year at each Hub through its Criminal Records Expungement Project. As PLSE is seeking expungements of non-conviction data in court, the Hubs will work with the clients in their neighborhoods to prepare themselves for possible application to the Governor for a pardon. Those who successfully complete the pardon preparation program will be considered for PLSE’s Pardon Project, in which clients will be linked with volunteer attorneys and others who have volunteered to help support the pardon applicant in what is today a daunting three-year process.

“We are very excited to be launching this new partnership with PLSE,” said Nikia Owens, director, UWGPSNJ’s Income and Financial Stability Community Impact program. . “It has been estimated that 60% of the people who live in Philadelphia’s lowest income neighborhoods have criminal records, and that more than 80% of employers and landlords check those records as part of background checks. Our society can invest every dollar we have in job training and workforce development, but we have no chance to succeed if these individuals are still prevented by the bad choices they made decades ago from getting the jobs or housing for which they are qualified today.”

PLSE files and prosecutes more expungement petitions than any other agency in the country – more than 2,200 last year alone. It has worked closely with Lieutenant Governor Michael Stack since 2015 on developing and implementing a statewide Pathways to Pardons program. Following a drug summit held in January in Washington, D.C., Steven Burk, Secretary to the Board of Pardons, referred to PLSE as “lawyers who share a passion for justice, expertise in expungement, and demonstrated success in helping those once addicted to drugs unburden themselves from their criminal records histories, so they can pursue their potential.”

“People who have demonstrably turned their lives around deserve a second chance,” continued Owens. “Our new partnership with PLSE holds that promise for literally hundreds of thousands of good people who are doing their best to achieve their potentials.”

Read the full press release here.

Brandeis Law Society Becomes the First Bar Association in Pennsylvania to Offer Pro Bono Help With Pardons

Brandeis Law Society Becomes the First Bar Association in Pennsylvania to Offer Pro Bono Help With Pardons

August 14, 2018. The Louis D. Brandeis Law Society today announced its new partnership with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity in which it will recruit and support attorneys providing volunteer legal services to poor Philadelphians seeking pardons from the Governor. Brandeis is the first bar association to sign up to help with the new Pardon Project.

It has been estimated that over 200,000 low-income Philadelphians have been convicted of at least one crime. For a great many, the bad decisions occurred when they were young, often under the influence of alcohol or drugs. Today, those convictions are being used by employers, landlords, credit agencies, and others to deny opportunities to people who have turned their lives around and are otherwise clearly qualified for advancement. The stigma of being branded a “criminal” for all time does more than just keep individuals and their families in poverty: because arrests and convictions are disproportionately higher in low-income, minority communities, criminal history records are helping to keep entire neighborhoods in poverty.

The Louis J. Goffman Award-winning Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) files and prosecutes in court more criminal record expungement petitions than any other organization in the country. It is launching its new Pardon Project, to help clients who have clearly turned their lives around since the time they were convicted and have earned forgiveness from society. The Louis D. Brandeis Law Society has agreed to find lawyers to help PLSE clients through the daunting pardon application and the 3-year administrative process, collecting the necessary documents and telling their stories of transformation in the most accurate, persuasive ways.

“We are excited to be the inaugural law association partner in this important project,” said Jennifer Coatsworth, Chancellor of the Law Society and an attorney with Margolis Edelstein. “What’s key to success in the pardon process is thoroughness, attention to detail, accuracy, and storytelling. These are skills that all of our members share, regardless of practice area. We see pardons as a way that any of us can fulfill our Talmudic tradition of ‘repairing the world’ by helping individuals achieve better lives for themselves and their families.”

Brandeis and PLSE will be offering a 2-credit CLE program on September 17 at 4:30 pm that will be a practical guide for attorneys seeking to help non-incarcerated clients obtain pardons in Pennsylvania. It will free to any lawyer who is considering volunteering for the new Pardon Project. At the conclusion of the program, pro bono lawyers will be assigned an existing, pre-qualified PLSE client to help through the pardon process.

For more information about the Brandeis partnership with PLSE, contact Adam Laver, laver@blankrome.com. For information about the CLE program, contact Tobey Oxholm at oxholm@plsephilly.org.

Read the full press release here.

Have you been denied employment by SEPTA?

Case Overview – Does this apply to you?

On April 27, 2016, Outten & Golden, LLP, Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, the Public Interest Law Center, and Willig, Williams & Davidson filed a proposed class action lawsuit on behalf of Frank Long and other job applicants similarly effected by the Southeastern Pennsylvania Transportation Authority’s (“SEPTA”) criminal background check policies and practices. The plaintiff alleges that SEPTA violated the Fair Credit Reporting Act by failing to properly inform job applicants like him that it was requesting to run a background check.  The plaintiff also alleges that SEPTA violated Pennsylvania’s Criminal History Record Information Act by disqualifying job applicants with unrelated convictions from employment at SEPTA.

Individuals who applied to work for SEPTA and were denied employment because of their criminal records since 2014 may be eligible to be part of the lawsuit.

  • Did you apply to work for SEPTA?
  • Were you denied employment, at least in part, because of your criminal history and/or the results of a background check?

If the answer to these questions is “yes”, we’d like to talk to you.

Contact us:  http://www.septaconvictiondiscrimination.com/

SEPTA background check practices violate Federal and State laws

PHILADELPHIA On April 27, PLSE along with Outten & Golden LLP, the Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law and Willig, Williams & Davidson filed a class action law suit against South Eastern Transportation Authority (SEPTA) of willfully violating Federal and State law when conducting and evaluating criminal history background checks during the hiring process.  Filed in federal court in Philadelphia, the class action accuses SEPTA, the nation’s sixth-largest public transportation system, of routinely rejecting job applicants based on information contained in reports obtained from background check companies.

The named plaintiff is Frank Long, a 55-year-old resident of Philadelphia and a commercially licensed bus driver whose October 2014 job offer for a position as a SEPTA bus operator was rescinded after he was subjected to SEPTA’s criminal background check process.

Mr. Long stated, “I’ve lived in Philadelphia practically all my life and have experience doing exactly the kind of work SEPTA was hiring for. I care about my community and am not a threat to anyone. This job would make a real difference in my life.” Mr. Long was convicted of a drug related felony over 20 years ago.

The full complaint can be read here; 16-04-27-Complaint-stamped Long v Septa

The legal team for the putative class includes:

Adam T. Klein, Ossai Miazad, Lewis M. Steel, Christopher M. McNerney, and Cheryl-Lyn Bentley, of Outten & Golden LLP’s New York office;

Jon Greenbaum and Mateya Kelley of Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights Under Law, of Washington, D.C.;

Benjamin D. Geffen of Public Interest Law Center, of Philadelphia;

Ryan Allen Hancock and Danielle Newsome of Willig, Williams & Davidson, of Philadelphia; and

Michael Lee and Michael Hardiman of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, of Philadelphia;

Groundbreaking new exhibit at Eastern State Penitentiary




As part of PLSE’s ongoing efforts to change the narrative around criminal records, we had the pleasure to consult with Eastern State Penitentiary on their newest exhibit; Prisons Today: Questions in the Age of Mass Incarceration.  Be sure to visit our friends at Eastern State Penitentiary this month for tours of Eastern State Penitentiary, visitors can take a journey of self-reflection through the new exhibit.  The exhibit is open every day from 10 am to 5 pm, included with admission to the historic site.

Click here for more information about Eastern State Penitentiary, the new exhibit, or to take an interactive quiz.


PLSE accepting applications for AmeriCorps Equal Justice Works JD positions

March 1, 2016


Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity is seeking currently enrolled law students to apply for an AmeriCorps JD position.  AmeriCorps JD shall complete 300 hours of service by August 31, 2016 with our Criminal Record Expungement Project (C-REP).  Applicants must provide a start and end date for their term of service in their application materials.

In addition to membership into the AmeriCorps alumni network, students will receive a $1,212 Segal AmeriCorps Education Award for their service. The student will not receive a cash stipend for service as an AmeriCorps JD Member. The Education Award is a voucher that can be applied toward student loans or current tuition within seven years of completion of service.

60% of the JD’s time will be devoted to direct legal representation. 40% of the JD’s time will be reserved for following up with clients, gathering employment data, and creating education and outreach materials. The JD will receive substantive training in the nexus of criminal and civil law, and will be responsible for the following tasks, including but not limited to: Attend monthly expungement intakes and review assist in post-intake follow up. Represent economically disadvantaged individuals annually, drafting and reviewing expungement/redaction petitions on their behalf, representing them in expungement hearings in the Philadelphia Court of Common Pleas.

Follow up with any individuals who have had their petitions granted, to make sure that all relevant agencies are complying with the Court’s expungement order. Conduct follow-up interviews with new and existing clients to collect data and measure effects of expungement on access to employment and education opportunities. Create legal education materials for legal aid organizations doing expungements in Philadelphia County, and beyond. Conduct community education presentations at non-profit organizations and social service providers. Maintain a PLSE’s social media outreach. Other administrative tasks related to AmeriCorps and Equal Justice Works program compliance, and as assigned.


Interested applicants should email a resume and brief writing sample to Lee@plsephilly.org.

More information can be found here.

AmeriCorps JD Recruitment Ad (1)

Governor Tom Wolf signs a new bill allowing for the sealing of some criminal record information

The United States is the world leader in incarceration and a criminal record often carries a lifetime of consequences that often lead to poverty or re-incarceration.”  Gov. Wolf.

In a historic step, Pennsylvania recognized the need for reform of the criminal justice system and the life long  prejudice facing people with criminal convictions.

Senate Bill 166 creates an order of limited access.  A limited access orders allows a person who has not been arrested or convicted for at least ten years following competition of their sentence to petition the court where the conviction occurred to have some misdemeanors conviction(s) that carry a maximum penalty of two years incarceration to be sealed.  If granted, a limited access order restricts access of sealed information to law enforcement agencies.  Not everyone is eligible to have a limited access order.

For eligibility restrictions and more information, read the full bill here.