Pardon Project Steering Committee

“Those who are closest to the pain should be closest to the power.… When people take their pain and channel it into purpose and action, that is how we create positive change and make our system more just.”

~ Lt. Gov. Austin Davis, December 15, 2023, announcing the new law that will make automatic the expungement of pardoned crimes

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


For a copy of the 90-day report on the impact the documentary short Pardon Me (December 2023), click here.

For photos of our most recent year, submitted in April 2023 to our funder the Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative at Bread and Roses, 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.


The new year 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.

It launched a second letter-writing campaign in September, shocked that the Governor – who had served on the Board of Pardons for so many years and was personally aware of how difficult it was to emerge from its review with a recommendation – was taking so very long to review and sign the pardons that had been recommended to him. The letter didn’t just ask the Governor to sign the pardons on his desk, but it called on him to institute a procedure that would ensure that pardon applications were decided within 60 days. In less than two months, 885 people from 59 of Pennsylvania’s 67 counties had signed the letter.

The expanding reach of the PPSC was due in significant part to the documentary film Pardon Me. Written, directed and produced by PPSC member Shuja Moore, it follows the stories of two people who applied for pardons. Finished in early September, the film was quickly taken around the state, with screenings in 13 counties in just over six weeks. The film’s “Impact Campaign” (called “Pardons for the People”) included five very specific objectives that the PPSC had earlier identified. For a copy of the 90-day report on the impact the documentary short Pardon Me (December 2023), click here.

The expanding reach of the PPSC was also reflected in its leadership. As of the summer, two of the seven members of its Executive Committee and one of its three Officers were from counties other than Philadelphia. By November, it was planning for a spring 2024 leadership retreat in Harrisburg that would include members from eight counties.

In November, Mr. Moore was invited to give the keynote address at the annual meeting of the American Society of Criminologists (ASC), Division on People of Color and Crime. After his talk, he was presented with its Community Service Award “in recognition of his outstanding contributions to improve the quality of life for underserved populations and communities affected by crime.” Later that day, his film was shown at a program called “Pardons: Forgiving the Past, Empowering the Future,” where the ASC’s President Shadd Maruna, Ph.D. (from Belfast, Ireland) served as the moderator of a post-film discussion among panelists that included: Daniel Nagin, Ph.D., the Heinz Professor of Public Policy and Statistics at the Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh; Jeff Hornstein, Executive Director of the Economy League; Rev. Dr. Michelle Simmons and Danea Langston-Brooks, two members of the PPSC; and Tobey Oxholm, Director of the Pardon Project..

In November, PPSC presented “The Rev. Michelle Award for Excellence in Advocacy” to Brandon Flood, the former Secretary to the Board of Pardons. Named in honor of the PPSC’s longtime Chair Rev. Dr. Michelle Simmons, the award is presented annually to the Outstanding Advocate for Second Chances. That same evening, it presented a one-hour “Virtual Town Hall” titled “Preparing For YOUR Pardon Hearing.” In it, former Secretary Flood was joined by five successful pardon applicants who all shared their stories and offered advice from their experiences.

The year ended with good news in two areas. First, on December 14, Governor Shapiro signed legislation that will eliminate the need to file petitions for expungement after getting a pardon. Starting next May, Act 36 of 2023 (formerly House Bill 689) will authorize the Board of Pardons simply to notify the Administrative Office of the PA Courts (AOPC) what crimes and people have been pardoned and the Courts are then responsible for issuing expungement Orders to the PA State Police, county Courts and District Attorneys requiring them to erase their files. This is a great reform that the PPSC has been championing for years.

And second, the Governor actually did sign more pardons. Unfortunately, the timing made it seem like pardons are “Christmas presents” and not relief that the applicants have earned. The Governor also refused to set for himself and his staff any timetable for reviewing pardon applications, rejecting the PPSC’s petition that had been signed by almost 1,000 Pennsylvanians and saying he refused to be bound by an “arbitrary deadline.” Among those receiving pardons were over 120 people who had been waiting for him to act for over six month, since early June – 107 of whom had received unanimous recommendation from the Board of Pardons. From our perspective, it’s the Governor whose long, unexplained inattention is what’s arbitrary.

So we’ll just have to keep working on this objective next year. Won’t you join us?

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)
  • Danea Langston-Banks (awaiting pardon hearing) (Philadelphia)
  • Shuja Moore (film producer/director)

The PPSC now has members in Allegheny, Centre, Dauphin, Erie, Lackawanna, Lancaster, Philadelphia, Washington and York Counties. In 2023, we are intent on expanding our reach, broadening our voice, and helping to bring second chances to more Pennsylvanians. If you have experience in the PA criminal justice system and want to help, write