The PPSC is eager to expand its advocacy, its members, and its reach across Pennsylvania. If you have lived experience in the PA criminal justice system and want to help, contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For photos of our most recent year, submitted in April 2023 to our funder the Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative at Bread and Roses, please click here.
The Pardon Project Steering Committee (PPSC) was created in 2018 to ensure PLSE always remained attentive and responsive to the communities it was formed to serve – those hardest-hit by the stigma of criminal record histories. Its members all had lived experience in the criminal justice systems. Most were clients for whom PLSE had successfully filed expungement petitions; some were clients whom PLSE was helping apply for a pardon; and all were people whose past was holding them and their families back from achieving their potential. In just four years, the PPSC has become a powerful voice for change.
Among its first achievements was a video library, in which its members talked about pardons and shared their experiences – good and bad, successful and not – in applying for a pardon.
Its evolution to a statewide advocacy group began in 2020, thanks to a grant from the Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative of the Bread & Roses Community Fund. That change began with a meeting with the Secretary of the Board of Pardons (BOP) held in Philadelphia where the PPSC advocated for major changes in the scope of the investigation undertaken of pardon applicants, which, back then, was intensely personal, demeaning, and threatening. That was also the PPSC’s first victory, as Secretary Flood totally changed the “present status” in the fall of 2020.
Next, the PPSC took on Governor Tom Wolf for taking so terribly long to review, decide and sign pardons that had been recommended to him by the BOP – some of which were taking nine months. The PPSC posted an online petition, calling on him to “sign the hundreds of pardons that have been sitting on your desk for so many months, and never again make anyone have to wait more than 30 days for you, or any Governor, to act.” 3,500 people signed that petition – and Gov. Wolf responded: he now “routinely” acts on pardon recommendations within 30 days of receiving them.
In December 2021, the PPSC held its first “virtual town hall” with the BOP Secretary during which its members asked the Secretary some very hard questions, and he answered them all, before a statewide audience.
Next, the PPSC took on the logjam of clemency applications that had built up as a result of the legislature’s failure to give the BOP the staff it needs to process the rapidly rising number of pardon petitions. Through an online letter-writing campaign, 235 people from 21 counties contacted 59 state senators and 58 state representatives, urging them to increase the Fiscal Year 2023 budget for the BOP. For most of the elected officials, this was their first introduction to the importance of pardons; and for the PPSC, it marked the first of what will be many such efforts to come.
On July 25, 2022, the PPSC took its information-sharing mission to a whole new level, with its first-ever live prep session for pardon candidates preparing for their public hearing. The four speakers had themselves gone through the hearings (some twice) and emerged with the BOP recommending them for a pardon. They offered 17 Tips For Doing Your Best At Your Pardon Public Hearing.
In August, thanks to the hospitality of Ballard Spahr and grants from the Patricia Kind Family Foundation and the Phoebus Fund, the PPSC held its first-ever statewide leadership retreat. Joining Philadelphia’s leadership for the day were Pardon Fellows from Erie, Centre, Lackawanna, Lancaster and Washington Counties. The leaders emerged with a list of projects and issues where the most powerful, most effective voices could well be those of the individuals, families and communities that are suffering because of criminal records.
One of the priorities that emerged from that retreat was to design a roll-out for the new movie about Pardons that PPSC-member and filmmaker Shuja Moore is producing. Here’s a link to its trailer. The PPSC will be utilizing and leveraging the statewide network of Pardon Projects to schedule showings and community discussions. If you are interested in hosting an event, contact us!
2022 ended with the Steering Committee joining with the ACLU, PA Workforce Development Association, PA State Nurses Association, Community Legal Services and others in offering comments in opposition to proposed occupational licensing regulations that might be used to decide when and how state licensing boards should consider criminal records.
2023 began with a flurry of activity for the PPSC. Its Chair Akeem Sims was invited to speak with State Senator Judy Schwank, Board of Pardons Secretary Celeste Trusty and Berks County District Attorney Jim Adams at the Second Chances Expungement and Pardon Clinic held in Reading by the Pardon Project of Berks County. In March, Mr. Sims went to Harrisburg to receive the Excellence Award for Community Advocacy from the Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, which honored the Pardon Project for the work it has done statewide to make pardons so accessible to people with low incomes. And in April, PPSC member Shuja Moore gave the keynote address at the annual Life Improvement Awards Breakfast held by Berks Connections/Pretrial Services, which also hosted a private screening of his new film Pardon Me and a panel discussion about the critical importance of pardons.
In mid-April – at the request of Lt. Gov. Austin Davis – the PPSC launched a letter-writing campaign in support of the Administration’s proposed FY24 budget increase for the Board of Pardons. In just over five weeks, 805 people from 49 counties responded to our call. Together, we sent 1,717 emails and reached 218 legislators – including 50 Senators and 168 Representatives. As exciting as these results are, many legislators responded by thanking the writer and saying that they were not aware of the important work that the BOP does. And THAT in itself was a MAJOR win.
The Steering Committee meets every other month for 90 minutes via zoom. Its members are:
- Akeem Sims, Chair (pardon received)
- Evan Figueroa-Vargas, Vice Chair (pardon received)
- Paula Budnick, Secretary (pardon received)
- Krista Henry (Centre County), Asst. Secretary (pardon application pending)
- Rev. Dr. Michelle Anne Simmons, Immediate Past Chair (pardon received)
- Thomas Cook (Lackawanna County)
- Shuja Moore (film producer/director)
The PPSC now has members in Allegheny, Centre, Dauphin, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Washington and York Counties. The PPSC is eager to expand its advocacy, its members, and its reach across Pennsylvania. If you have lived experience in the PA criminal justice system and want to help, write email@example.com.