“People who have been convicted of or pleaded guilty to minor misdemeanors many years ago deserve a second chance,” said Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf when he signed House Bill 1419, the “Clean Slate” bill. That year, Pennsylvania became the first state in the nation to enact automated “clean slate” legislation, which seals certain criminal records from public view through an automated process, even when a person does not have access to lawyers, can’t afford filing fees, or doesn’t know that their record is eligible. Since then, other states including Delaware, Utah, Michigan, and Connecticut have joined Pennsylvania in enacting clean slate legislation. This legislation and growing movement are sponsored by the The Clean Slate Initiative, a national bipartisan coalition advancing policies to automatically clear all eligible criminal records across the United States.
These bills allow for an individual to petition the courts for their records to be sealed, after they have been free from conviction for ten years of an offense that resulted in a year or more in prison. People also need to have paid off all court-ordered financial debts. It also allows for automatic sealing of records for second or third-degree misdemeanor offenses, including a less than two-year prison sentence if a person has been free from convictions for ten years, as well as sealing of criminal history records related to charges that resulted in non-convictions. However, it does not allow for records-sealing in serious or violent crimes, such as firearms charges, sexual offenses, murder, kidnapping, child endangerment, and endangering the welfare of children, among other serious offenses.
According to the Initiative, one in three Americans have some type of criminal record and 90 percent of employers use background checks in hiring. This can create lifelong barriers of opportunities to employment and housing for the nearly three million people in Pennsylvania who have a criminal record. Many of these individuals have only minor convictions, while others have been arrested but never convicted of a crime. These barriers can lead to a life in poverty, and negatively impact the families of these individuals as well. The initiative states that half of all children in the United States have a parent with a criminal record, which creates generational barriers of opportunity for these children.
Governor Wolf’s signing of the Pennsylvania Clean Slate Initiative expanded criminal record sealing to include more types of offenses, including some first-degree misdemeanors, which can be sealed by filing petitions. Clean Slate uses technology to seal certain criminal records from public view through an automated process, helping people access employment, housing and education without a public criminal record to hinder their search. Clean Slate automated sealing began in Pennsylvania on June 28, 2019, and as of right now, over 1.2 million Pennsylvanians have benefitted from the change, with over 40 million cases having been sealed.