Promising it will remove barriers to housing and employment for people who have been marginalized by a record of past minor criminal convictions, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf has signed “Clean Slate” legislation into law.
During a June 28 press conference with both state House and Senate sponsors of the legislation, Wolf said he was proud to sign into law a bill that simultaneously addresses criminal justice reform and workforce barriers.
“I am proud to sign this legislation, which will make it easier for those who have interacted with the justice system to reduce the stigma they face when looking for employment and housing,” Gov. Wolf said. “Clean Slate passed in an overwhelmingly bi-partisan manner and I want General Assembly and the many advocates and stakeholders who made this possible.”
State Rep. Ed Gainey told the New Pittsburgh Courier it is welcome news, but more should be done.
“I’m glad to see the governor sign this because we need to help people. We can’t keep hanging minor crimes on people and making it difficult for them to reenter society,” he said.
“I think it’s good news, it can uplift the Black community and should be celebrated. But it is only a first step. I think that someone who’s served their time and been a model citizen for, say, five years, should have their records automatically expunged.”
As passed, the Clean Slate legislation allows individuals to petition the courts for their records to be sealed if a person has been free from conviction for 10 years for an offense that resulted in a year or more in prison and has paid all court-ordered financial debts.
The law also allows for the automatic sealing of records for second or third-degree misdemeanor offenses that included a less-than two-year prison sentence, if a person has been free from convictions for 10 years and would seal criminal history records related to non-convictions.
“A lot of people make mistakes, and these mistakes that resulted in minor convictions should not follow them as they try to make themselves productive citizens,” said state Rep. Jake Wheatley. “We should be making it less of a burden for people who’ve paid their debt. So, yes, it’s a great first step.”
Clean Slate applies only to convictions for minor, non-violent crimes. Major crimes such as murder, arson, kidnapping, sexual assault, child endangerment, and any crimes involving a firearm are excluded.
“This bill is the latest step in my administration’s efforts to make our commonwealth and our society safer by helping those who have offended put their lives back together,” Gov. Wolf said. “Last year, we ‘banned the box,’ removing the criminal conviction question for job applications covered by the Office of Administration, which ensured that all candidates for employment are being evaluated on their merit, and on their willingness and ability to contribute to our commonwealth,” Gov. Wolf said in a news release.
“While Clean Slate and Ban the Box are great steps to removing the stigma of low-level convictions, we also know that we need to do more to reform our criminal justice system.”
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