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Center for American Progress

STATEMENT: Pennsylvania Will Make History by Sealing 30 Million Criminal Records
Press Statement

Washington, D.C. — Today, Pennsylvania becomes the first state in the nation to seal criminal records by automation, as its recently passed Clean Slate Act takes full effect. Within the year, Pennsylvania will seal 30 million old and minor cases, more than half of its criminal records database; and 2.5 million cases will be sealed in the next month. Criminal justice experts believe that over the next year, Pennsylvania will seal more criminal records than any other state in history. To mark this milestone, Rebecca Vallas, a senior fellow at the Center for American Progress and one of the co-originators of the clean slate policy model—along with Sharon Dietrich of Community Legal Services—released the following statement:

Today is a historic day, not only for Pennsylvania but for state criminal justice reform efforts writ large. By pioneering the use of automation to clear criminal records under its Clean Slate Act, Pennsylvania is removing unjust barriers to jobs, housing, and education for tens of thousands of its residents and their families. Pennsylvania is also providing a roadmap for other states to put technology to use to clear criminal records through automation—so people can access the second chances they’ve earned, regardless of whether they can afford to hire a lawyer, file a costly petition, or jump through other hoops that keep too many people with records branded with a scarlet letter for years after they’ve paid their debt to society.

In this digital era in which 9 in 10 employers, 4 in 5 landlords, and 3 in 5 colleges now use background checks to screen applicants’ criminal records, any sort of record, no matter how old or minor, can be a life sentence to poverty. I commend Gov. Tom Wolf (D-PA) and the bill’s champions in the legislature, Reps. Jordan Harris and Sheryl Delozier and Sen. Anthony Williams, for their vision and leadership in making Pennsylvania the first state to pass and enact clean slate legislation, paving the way for automated record clearing in all 50 states.

While Pennsylvania is the first state to adopt clean slate, it will certainly not be the last. Utah passed its own version of bipartisan clean slate legislation earlier this year, and states as diverse as California, Connecticut, Michigan, and more are advancing similar proposals of their own. Bipartisan clean slate legislation to clear marijuana and certain other drug records has also been introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives.

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For more information or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at [email protected] or 202-495-3682.