Times Chronicle & Public Spirit
State should expand Clean Slate measure
As we enter the home stretch of a furious campaign season, it’s not easy to find areas of common ground on issues of public policy or just about anything else.
But as views evolve on how best to treat nonviolent criminals, we are seeing a bipartisan consensus coalesce around the idea of making sure such offenders have a good opportunity to rebuild their lives and become productive citizens.
We saw the first fruits of this trend in 2018 with the passage of the Clean Slate law in Pennsylvania. It enables people convicted of certain low-level, nonviolent misdemeanors to have their records automatically sealed after 10 years.
Now an expansion of the program is under consideration, and we believe it deserves strong support.
HB1826, now before the House, would drop the waiting period to seven years and bring nonviolent drug felonies into the program, with a 10-year wait. Offenses that involve violence or trafficking would not be eligible.
The bill has broad support. The Pennsylvania District Attorneys Association endorses it, arguing that it would reduce recidivism by removing barriers to full participation in society.
State Reps. Sheryl Delozier and Jordan Harris recently penned an op-ed for PennLive aimed at demonstrating that this is an issue that should appeal to people in both parties.
“Clean Slate has sealed records for more than 1.2 million Pennsylvanians, making it easier to find stable housing, meaningful employment, and continuing education,” the bill’s sponsors wrote. “The men and women who benefited from Clean Slate came from every background and every part of the state. As a Republican representing Cumberland County and a Democrat representing Philadelphia, we saw the impact of Clean Slate on our own constituents and communities.
“Now we have the chance to expand that opportunity and allow people with records of non- violent, low-level drug felonies, who have gone ten years without another offense, to have their records sealed.”
The lawmakers noted that studies show people who have remained crime-free for at least four to seven years are no more likely to reoffend than people who have never committed a crime. And having access to stable housing, employment, and education makes it even less likely that a person will commit a crime.
There is strong interest in this issue in the business community. Greater Reading Chamber Alliance President & CEO Jim Gerlach, a longtime Republican congressman in our region, recently urged lawmakers representing Berks County to support the expansion of the law.
“In a time where all employers are desperate for workers and it is estimated that for every one job seeker, there are two open positions, commonsense solutions like this proposal are critical,” he wrote in a letter to the delegation. “We applaud the legislative leaders who are introducing practical ways to expand our employee base through these types of reforms.”
For anyone who doubts the business community’s seriousness about working with former offenders, look no further than last week’s Reading career fair for people who had been incarcerated. The event was put on by Berks Connections/Pretrial Services, which has a long history of doing great work helping the formerly imprisoned rebuild their lives.
Organizers said Monday’s Returning Citizens Career Fair was one of the largest BCPS has put on, with a total of 40 employers on hand. A number of the people hiring at the event spoke positively about their experiences when they’ve hired other people rebounding from a past in low-level crime.
This all comes down to again embracing the basic notion that people deserve a second chance. The internet makes it so that it’s all too easy to learn about people’s worst moments and then dismiss them out of hand. That should run counter to anyone’s sense of fairness.
People who have served out their punishment and want to turn over a new leaf deserve the best possible opportunity to do so. They and the rest of us stand to benefit. Let’s keep advancing efforts to give past offenders a clean slate.