By CSG Justice Center Staff
After lobbying by a diverse group that included record clearance advocates, business leaders, and Philadelphia Eagles players, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act is set to take full effect on June 28, 2019. The first of its kind in the nation, the law mandates automatic, computer-generated record sealing for certain kinds of criminal records—meaning that the vast majority of employers, landlords, schools, and occupational licensing agencies will no longer be able to access these records. This legislation has the potential to mitigate barriers to employment, housing, and education that people with criminal records often face.
The Act, which passed the legislature with overwhelming bipartisan support, affects records of conviction for minor offenses known as “summary offenses,” many misdemeanor convictions, and charges that did not lead to conviction. Sealing is allowed after a 10-year period free of any misdemeanor or felony conviction, as long as all financial obligations are paid.
To start the process, each month the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts will send the Pennsylvania State Police—which keeps the central repository of criminal records—a list of records that a computer program has identified as eligible for automatic sealing. The state police will validate these records, notifying the Administrative Office of any ineligible records or data discrepancies. The Administrative Office will then send the list of eligible records to all county courts across the state. Finally, county courts will issue monthly orders for limited access, sealing all affected records.
With an order for limited access in place, access will be limited to state and county officials in the performance of their duties relating to child welfare, employers who are required to consider these records under federal law, and employers who utilize FBI background checks. These records can also be disclosed by court order in certain situations described in the statute.
Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act addresses a problem known as the “second chance gap,” the gap between the number of records eligible for clearance under state law and the number of records that are actually cleared. An automated clearance system, such as Pennsylvania’s under the new law, takes the burden off people with criminal records to determine their eligibility and navigate the complex clearance process. Automated clearance for certain criminal records also helps reduce the considerable resources needed to process, evaluate, and decide on record clearance petitions on a case-by-case basis.
By the end of June 2020, all existing, eligible records in Pennsylvania—covering hundreds of millions of charges, according to the Administrative Office—are to be sealed. An analysis by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s Office concluded that 22 percent of all convictions in the state from January 1, 2003, to November 1, 2008, will be sealed as a result of the Clean Slate Act.
In addition to mandating automatic clearance for certain records, Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act also expanded eligibility for sealing other records through the existing petition-based process. More information on this provision is available in this flowchart from Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.