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One year after Clean Slate Act, lawmakers want for more reform

It’s been an entire year since Pennsylvania adopted the Clean Slate Act, a novel and sweeping criminal justice reform measure that’s sealed more than 34 million criminal records since its inception and opened doors to economic opportunity once permanently closed to more than 1 million residents with prior convictions.

Now, the unlikely legislative allies behind the bill — Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland, and Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia – want the Legislature’s support in advancing more measures designed to help formerly incarcerated individuals reenter the work force and put their pasts behind them, for good.

“We have another bill around probation reform. It must be the next step,” Harris said. “We must also deal with felony drug charges. It’s one of the biggest impediments to getting employed, but I know not all of us are there yet.”

“We can make common sense changes,” Delozier said. “None of our differences should stand in the way of us helping people move forward in their lives.”

The Clean Slate Act, signed by Gov. Tom Wolf in 2018, seals certain cases from public view for people who had their charges dropped, were found not guilty, or were convicted of certain nonviolent offenses – after remaining crime-free for 10 years, according to the Justice Action Network. Doing so allows residents to apply for jobs or housing without fear of their previous records equaling automatic disqualification.

In the 12 months since the law became effective, 47 million criminal offenses – more than half the charges listed in the state’s court database – have been sealed. And several others states have followed in Pennsylvania’s footsteps by passing Clean Slate Acts of their own.

“I’m proud that Pennsylvania is leading the way in second chances and excited to see our Clean Slate law serve as a national model for common sense, bipartisan criminal justice reforms,” Wolf said Tuesday on the law’s one year anniversary. “Today we celebrate 35 million cases sealed and countless lives changed – and we’re not done yet.”

The governor then gave most of the credit for the bill to Harris and Delozier, whom he described as “the real champions and architects.”

“And as they both said many, many times, this was a jobs bill, and it was something that’s really really needed,” he said. “It was a wonderful first step. … This should not be a partisan thing. We should work together and get it done all across the country.”

Wolf, Harris and Delozier spoke at a panel that same day touting the success of the law and advocating for more criminal justice reform bills currently pending in the legislature. One measure, Senate Bill 637, removes licensing barriers for formerly incarcerated individuals. Wolf signed it into law on Wednesday.

“It makes absolutely no sense that you can work to get a license while incarcerated, but then come out and can’t get a license because you were incarcerated,” Harris said. “I don’t care if my barber sold drugs 10 years ago. I do care that he can help me with the thinning I have in the front of my hair.”

“The work we are doing is about getting people back in the game,” he added. “It’s not a hand out.”

Another measure, Delozier’s House Bill 440, would expunge charges in cases where an individual has been fully acquitted or pardoned. It awaits consideration in the Senate Judiciary Committee.

“It’s something that we need to do,” she said. “Your past should not directly affect your future, especially if it has nothing to do with your profession now.”

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