HARRISBURG— With an update to an old law going in effect today, Pennsylvanians with a non violent drug felony will now have their criminal record automatically expunged; freeing them to enter the workforce.

Lawmakers launched the third version of Pennsylvania’s landmark ‘Clean Slate’ law with a ceremonial bill signing. Act 36, formerly HB 689, was signed into law last December and was set to go into effect 180 days after signing.

“A person should not be judged for the rest of their lives by their worst day,” said Rep. Jordan Harris (D-186), who sponsored the original clean slate legislation and all forms that have come since.

For this update, an individual with a non violent drug felony— who has been clean and crime free for 10 years— will have their criminal record automatically sealed.

“Why this is really important, is because here in Pennsylvania really low level drug crimes are graded as felonies,” said Jenna Bottler, executive director of the Justice Action Network. "And so if long ago you picked up a drug felony, it’s going to stay on your record."

"It’s going to be a felony which makes it really hard to get jobs, employment, housing- and if you have been clean for 10 years, there is no need for us to be holding you back with that record,” said Bottler.

Act 36 also shortened the wait time for certain misdemeanors to 7 years, and the lowest level offenses to 5 years of being crime free.

 

Economics

Criminal records make reintegration in communities difficult. Senator Camera Bartolotta said today that individuals who have paid their debt to society, should have a path back to rejoin society.

“Why do people recidivate? They don't have a good job. Why do people recidivate? They don't have a good place to live. Why do people recidivate? They need more education,” said Rep. Sheryl Delozier, (R-88) another supporter of the bill. "Clean Slate has a direct impact on those three issues.”

Looking specifically at employment, the legislation has long been supported by business organizations, like the PA Chamber of Business & Industry, that want to bolster the workforce. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce reports that  Pennsylvania has 66 workers for ever 100 available jobs.

“Each year, $78 to $87 billion is lost in the United States GDP due to unemployment or underemployment of individuals with criminal records,” said Delozier.

 

Impact

Pennsylvania originally passed Clean Slate legislation in 2018; the first in the nation to enact automatic expungement of criminal record. Since then, 11 states have enacted similar laws.

In states without Clean Slate laws, getting a criminal record expunged or pardoned can be a complicated and expensive process— and many are unable to afford the lawyer fees.

With automatic expungement, the state’s criminal justice system sends the list of qualified candidates to involved agencies who confirm then seal the records.

“People’s lives have been changed by this legislation,” said Harris in today’s presser.

Notably, the state does not contact those whose records are expunged. Anyone who thinks their record might have been sealed can visit mycleanslatepa.com.

“If you have a sealed record and you go and apply for a job, what do you say when they ask you about a criminal record? That's all going to be on the website,” said Bottler. "We're going to tell you exactly what you can say and do.”

Pennsylvania has over 3 million people with criminal records. Since the original legislation passed in 2018, over 1.2 million have had their records expunged.