Pennsylvania has begun automatically sealing the criminal records of individuals who were either never convicted, or have served time for lower-level misdemeanors and kept a good record. This Clean Slate legislation will be life-changing for those who struggle to find jobs and housing because of old criminal records.
House Bill 1419 calls for the state to automatically seal criminal records for cases in which a person was sentenced to less than one year, once they have gone ten years without any new convictions punishable by more than one year in prison. Those sentenced to less than two years for second- or third-degree misdemeanors may apply for record-sealing after the same ten-year interim.
Important exceptions apply to violent crimes including murder, child endangerment, kidnapping, and sexual offenses. Note that the average offender in Pennsylvania serves 3.8 years; this bill will only apply to the lowest-level offenders in the system.
The bill also ends the system in which individuals carry criminal records for life for crimes that they were never convicted of.
When a person is charged with a crime but not convicted, the accusation and its stigma can follow a person around for life. Khalia Robinson experienced this firsthand.
While six months pregnant, Ms. Robinson visited a crowded Chinese restaurant, where she accidentally knocked over a pile of CDs with her large stomach. Before she could finish picking them back up, she was arrested and charged with selling bootleg CDs. She was never convicted, but the charges remained on her record and haunted her for years.
“When you pull up my FBI record, it looks like I have a rap sheet as long as a thief,” she said.
Sealing criminal records for charges that never resulted in convictions is a commonsense measure to protect due process will prevent people from being discriminated against for crimes they did not commit.
For those who did commit crimes, these reforms are just as important.
A person who commits a low-level crime, serves their sentence, and goes ten years without any serious new convictions has clearly demonstrated that they are not a danger to society and are very unlikely to recidivate. However, such individuals can struggle to find jobs due to their criminal records. Job applicants with criminal histories receive sixty percent fewer callbacks from employers than their peers.
Jobs bring about stability and security; they allow individuals to provide for their families and weave themselves into their communities. These are keys to incentivizing long-term good behavior, and they are some of the most important elements of a satisfying life.
The same is true for housing. Eighty percent of landlords conduct background checks, so criminal records can hurt a person’s chances of finding a place to live even when charges are decades old.
Without a job or a place to live, people with criminal records are likely to fall into government dependency, homelessness, or criminal activity.
Rep. Sheryl Delozier (R-88th District) and Rep. Jordan Harris (D-186th District) deserve recognition for their work on this legislation. An estimated one million people will have their records sealed now that the bill has gone into effect.