Washington, D.C. — June 28, 2020, marked the one-year anniversary of Pennsylvania’s groundbreaking Clean Slate Act taking effect. In the year since, Pennsylvania’s state courts report that nearly 35 million criminal cases have been sealed, bringing relief to more than 1 million Pennsylvanians facing the long-lasting stigma of a criminal record. With nearly 9 in 10 employers and 4 in 5 landlords now using criminal background checks, having a criminal record can be a lifelong barrier to basics such as employment and housing. Yet a new study published in the Harvard Law Review finds that nearly 95 percent of eligible people are unable to get their records cleared if filing a court petition is required. To help close this gap, the Clean Slate policy model makes the record-clearing process automatic for people with eligible records who remain crime-free for a set period of time. Pennsylvania became the first state to enact a Clean Slate law in 2018, establishing automated sealing for qualifying misdemeanors after 10 years conviction-free, as well as for all nonconviction records with no waiting period.
“In its first year, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act has brought much-needed relief to more than 1 million Pennsylvanians serving out life sentences to poverty, which no judge ever handed down,” said Rebecca Vallas, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, former Philadelphia legal aid lawyer, and one of the co-originators of the clean slate model, with Community Legal Services’ Sharon Dietrich. “I’m grateful to Gov. Tom Wolf (D), Whip Jordan Harris (D), Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R), and the remarkable array of in-state advocates and stakeholders that joined forces across the political spectrum to unlock barriers to opportunity for so many Pennsylvanians through the Clean Slate law. And I’m thrilled to see red, blue, and purple states alike advancing Clean Slate measures of their own, recognizing that removing barriers to employment and housing is more important than ever in the era of COVID-19, to ensure a full and equitable recovery on the other side of the pandemic.”
As a new column from the Center for American Progress recounts, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act was supported by a diverse coalition of stakeholders who agree on little if anything else—from the political left and right, to business leaders, directly affected communities, prosecutors, faith leaders, labor unions, and even the Philadelphia Eagles.
Now, following Pennsylvania’s lead, the clean slate policy model is gaining bipartisan momentum in states across the country. Utah passed its own version of the law in March 2019, while Michigan, Connecticut, Washington state, North Carolina, Louisiana, California, and New Jersey have introduced or passed measures that move toward automated record-clearing. This momentum has picked up steam in recent weeks, with Michigan’s Clean Slate bill —the first to include automated clearing of felonies—passing unanimously out of key Senate committees last week as part of a major expungement package, and North Carolina and Georgia both passing major expungement expansion bills, also unanimously, all just last week. Also last week, Pennsylvania passed a major occupational licensing reform bill to remove additional barriers to employment for workers with records. The bipartisan momentum growing in the states has also trickled up to Congress, inspiring the bipartisan Clean Slate Act, introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives, which would for the first time allow sealing of certain federal records and establish automatic sealing at the federal level, starting with drug offenses.
Today, Tuesday, June 30, Community Legal Services of Philadelphia, the Clean Slate Initiative, and the Justice Action Network will be hosting an online event featuring Pennsylvania Gov. Wolf and state and national leaders discussing Clean Slate’s impact in Pennsylvania to date and why record-clearing is more important than ever in the era of COVID-19.
Clean Slate is based on a 2014 report from the Center for American Progress and Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
- “Advancing Clean Slate: The Need for Automatic Record Clearance During the Coronavirus Pandemic” by Akua Amaning
- “Update to ‘News You Can Use: Research Roundup for Re-Entry Advocates’” by the CAP Poverty Team, Kenny Lo, and Akua Amaning
- “PA Clean Slate: Delivering on Its Promises” by Sharon M. Dietrich (Community Legal Services of Philadelphia)
- “Criminal records can be a ‘life sentence to poverty.’ This state is automatically sealing some.” by Hannah Knowles (The Washington Post)
- “Why states are rushing to seal millions of old criminal records” (The Economist)
- “Video: A Mistake Shouldn’t Sit on Your Shoulders: Pennsylvania Becomes First State to Clear Criminal Records Through Automation” by Jasmine Hardy, David Ballard, and Rebecca Vallas
- “The Case for Expunging Criminal Records” by J.J. Prescott and Sonja B. Starr (The New York Times)
- “One Strike and You’re Out: How We Can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility for People with Criminal Records” by Rebecca Vallas and Sharon Dietrich
- “Removing Barriers to Opportunity for Parents with Criminal Records and Their Children: A Two-Generation Approach” by Rebecca Vallas, Melissa Boteach, Rachel West, and Jackie Odum
For more information on this topic or to speak to an expert, contact Julia Cusick at gro.ssergorpnacirema@kcisucj.