A second chance for people convicted of low-level offenses

A second chance for people convicted of low-level offenses

Senate Bill 391

At a time when the federal government is spending billions of dollars bailing out banks, manufacturers and foreign governments, Pennsylvania should take the opportunity to give thousands of Pennsylvanians a second chance by modernizing the way it treats criminal records. State Sen. Tim Solobay, D-Canonsburg, has introduced Senate Bill 391 to do just that.

The process by which people can apply to a court to have a criminal record removed from public view, called expungement, is currently not available to people convicted of even the lowest level of misdemeanors. This leaves tens of thousands of people branded for life as criminals in Pennsylvania.

If SB391 is Enacted

If SB 391 is enacted, Pennsylvania will join a growing list of states that have modernized their laws to reduce the period during which the consequences of a criminal record can continue to prejudice people convicted of low-level offenses. The bill won unanimous support in committee on Sept. 27, and Sen. Solobay said he is hoping the bill will soon win approval from the full Senate.

SB 391 would allow people who were convicted of second- or third-degree misdemeanors to have those records expunged after a certain period. 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.

Expungement Reform

Expungement reform would benefit more than just former offenders. If SB 391 is enacted, 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 — something that can probably be seen in Pennsylvania’s recidivism rate of 55 percent in the first five years, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections.

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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.

People will Benefit

N. White of Yeadon, Pa., 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 not only has remained law-abiding, but is currently pursuing an accelerated program to earn his bachelor’s degree in network engineering. Despite his education and nearly 10 years of being a model citizen, Mr. 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 2011, Mr. White was informed by his recruiter that because of his misdemeanor, he would need a waiver to join. Unfortunately for him, a freeze had just been instituted on the number of available waivers that could be issued and he was turned down.

Mr. 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 Mr. 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.

Costs involved

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 state Department of Corrections, the annual cost to incarcerate one inmate is more than $32,000 and inmate populations have increased by 25 percent over the last seven years. Reversing or even slowing the rate of increase would produce significant financial savings.

However, there are certain criminal records that the public should be able to access. SB 391 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.

With or without the amendment, SB 391 will help all people in Pennsylvania by allowing many former offenders to make the most of their lives by leaving the effects of a past mistake where they belong — in the past.

Read more: http://www.post-gazette.com/stories/opinion/perspectives/expungement-reform-a-second-chance-for-people-convicted-of-low-level-offenses-216813/#ixzz2O8EvaLrv

By Mathew Higbee Esq.

Mathew K. Higbee is a lawyer and chairman of the Foundation for Continuing Justice.


9 Comments

  1. Enrique Rosario

    So only people with misdemeanors? Why not people with felonies? What’s the difference? I plead guilty in 2008 for Aggravated Assault and terroristic threats. Now every time I apply for a job and they run a background check, everything I was charged with pops up. That’s why Pennsylvania is the bullshit state. I did my jail time, now I have to suffer the rest of my life. If we’re not able to get a second chance at life from society then don’t blames us convicted felons for repeating!

  2. Brandi Kantz

    I will be 28 in August, on 8/22/2003 two days after I turned 18 I was “caught stealing” a pair of earrings from Walmart , they found a small amount of marijuana on me and charged me with retail theft and small amount! They couldn’t prove I took anything( because I didn’t the earrings I had were a gift for my bday that were in my purse) so my “WONDERFUL” public defender got that dropped but I was charged for the small amount the smallest misdemeanor you can get! I could have done ARD but didn’t know it! Now I have gone through 2 local and 2 FBI background checks and nothing came up but I applied for a job recently and they did a state check and guess what 10 yrs later boom there it is!!!! Now I am not able to get the clearances I need!! All over a stupid mistake when I was a kid !!!!!! Ahhhhhhh!

  3. Margie

    I actually know someone who has a record of retail theft. She got it back in 1987. She is a now a highly educated professional who has to have criminal background checks, every time she wants to apply for a job. She has never committed nor been charged with any crime since but she still has her record from 25 yrs + pop up every time a clearance check is done.
    Another case where a guy got busted in Philadelphia with 40 bags of heroin in 1996. He stayed in jail overnight, attended a class and his record was expunged. He has struggled with drugs ever since but his record is clean as a whistle.
    I know these two people well. Is this justice?

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  5. Shanee

    Hi I was recently charged with retail theft in 2011 I paid my fine and its still on my record and it’s hard for me to work at a job I really want to work at because of that. It was stupid mistake, but I just really want to get a better job and move on with my life. What should I do?

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  7. Power Engineer

    Every one who has commented on this site should write to their respective PA state Senators who are Sponsors or Co-sponsors of this bill SB-391 to urge them to include low level or non-violent crimes for eligibility for expungement in some form may be even for offenders 25 years or younger when they committed such crimes. Because majority of these offenders are young and dumb who does not realize the consequences of their actions until it is too late. Once they get older and have responsibility of their life and may be also the family they get wiser but with criminal record hanging on their head getting a reasonable employer no matter how reformed they are is almost impossible for them this is very very unfair and there should be a second chance bill that should include low level felony charges I hear many people in this predicament. Every one on this site should write to their PA senators/ to support this important bill and ask them to include low level felonies also, I am willing to take the lead to facilitate a petition to SB-391 Sponsors and PA Governor. Please feel free to contact me at power2engineer@yahoo.com. Best of luck

  8. Krystal

    I had never gotten in trouble with the law, and now at the age of 28 they slapped me with a misdemeanor C, basically because they used the police tactics of questioning me and I didn’t cooperate. I was lucky enough to be able to get a crappy job, after getting fired from the good one I had, so now Ill be living off of the government with my two children. These pigs in Pennsylvania don’t want people to get ahead unless it’s the ones who is already in the same circle.

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