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The Pennsylvania State Senate has taken a much needed step towards modernizing its approach to long-term reporting of criminal records by advancing a bill that will allow people convicted of low level misdemeanors to eventually expunge their record. If enacted, Pennsylvania will join a growing list of states that have modernized their laws to restrict the period during which the consequences of a criminal record can continue to prejudice people convicted of low level offenses.

The bill, SB 1220, sponsored by State Senator Tim Solobay (46th District), would allow people who were convicted of misdemeanors of the second or third degree to have those records expunged after a certain period of time.  For third degree misdemeanor convictions, the required waiting period without arrests or convictions would be seven years. For second-degree misdemeanors, that waiting period would be increased to 10 years.  The bill won unanimous support in committee on September 27th, and Senator Solobay said he is hoping the bill will soon win approval from the full senate.

At a time when the federal government is bailing out entire industries for their recent bad judgment and misconduct, it seems very appropriate to give a second chance to people who misdemeanors seven years ago and have since been law abiding.  This type of second chance costs next to nothing and will produce real benefits for society, as thousands of people in Pennsylvania are currently unable to maximize their employment potential due to convictions for low level crimes from more than a decade ago. Helping those who have committed low level offenses re-enter the workforce will decrease repeat offenses, reduce the costs of courts and corrections programs and expand the tax base.

A study by the Society for Human Resource Management shows that more than 80 percent of employers conduct background checks on job applicants. Not only do employers conduct background checks, so too do a rapidly growing number of landlords. The end result of these practices is that many people with criminal records — no matter how long ago they were acquired— find it very difficult to secure the necessities of life such as a job and housing.

N. White. of Yeadon is one of thousands of people who would benefit from this proposed law. He was convicted in 2003 at the age of 20 for stealing a video game.  He pled guilty and successfully completed his probation. Since then, he has not only has remained law-abiding, but is currently pursuing an accelerated program to earn his B.S. in network engineering. Despite his education and nearly 10 years of being a model-citizen, White is subject to continued discrimination because of his offense from 2003. “I feel like I have to work three times as hard as anyone else because of my misdemeanor,” he said.

When he tried to enlist in the military in January of 2011, White was informed by his recruiter that because of his misdemeanor, he would need a waiver in order to join. Unfortunately for him, a freeze had just been instituted on the amount of available waivers that could be issued and he was turned down.

White recently applied for a job as a personal care assistant at a private care facility assisting the handicapped and the elderly. The employer told White that he wanted to give him the job, however, state law prohibits hiring anyone with a misdemeanor theft conviction to fill that type of position, without regard to the amount of time a person has since remained law-abiding.

Solobay’s expungement bill could benefit more than just former offenders.   Pennsylvania should see reductions in crime and unemployment rates, which would lead to taxpayers paying less to fund welfare and correctional programs.  Studies consistently show that individuals who are without employment or a connection to their communities are far more likely to commit criminal offenses, whether or not for monetary gain.  With employers denying employment based on convictions from a decade ago, and no expungement law to help those with just misdemeanor convictions, the potential financial cost to Pennsylvania could be huge.   According to the PA Department of Corrections, the annual cost to incarcerate one inmate is $32,8986 and inmate populations have increased by 25% over the last seven years.  Reversing or even slowing the rate of increase would produce significant financial savings.

However, there are certain criminal records which the public should be able to access. Senate Bill 1220 recognizes this by preserving the records of violent and repeat offenders. Additionally, certain other offenses, such as indecent assault or crimes involving abuse of animals, would likewise be ineligible for expungement.

The bill’s one flaw is that it disqualifies people who would otherwise be eligible if they are arrested during their waiting periods. Disqualifying someone on the basis of an arrest that did not lead to a conviction (or other adverse finding ) is patently unfair and contradicts the intent of existing expungement laws.  The bill should be amended to allow a person to remain eligible to have their misdemeanor expunged if the only disqualifying act is a subsequent arrest (or arrests) that are themselves eligible to be expunged under the current law, which allows for the expungement of arrests that did not lead to a conviction.

With or without the amendment, Senator Solobay’s expungement bill will help all people in Pennsylvania by allowing some former offenders to make the most of their lives by leaving the effects of a past mistake where they belong – in the past.

Written by Mathew Higbee, Esq

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2 Responses Leave a comment

  1. ron shuey says:

    when is voting on senate bill @1220 Thanks RS

  2. ron shuey says:

    when is voting on senate @1220 thanks RS

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