Bipartisan Support for a Second Chance

We all deserve a second chance. This is the core principle underlying “clean slate” legislation, which the legislature overwhelmingly approved last week.

The measure, House Bill 1419, sponsored by Rep. Sheryl Delozier, passed unanimously in the Senate and by a 188-2 vote margin in the House. A similar piece of legislation, sponsored by Sen. Scott Wagner, also passed the Senate unanimously last year.

HB 1419 automatically seals the criminal records of individuals convicted of certain non-violent misdemeanors after 10 years if they are not convicted of a crime within that 10-year period. This reform builds on a prior law, which required individuals to petition the court before they could have their criminal records sealed.

Rep. Delozier’s legislation also provides for the sealing of non-conviction records (those pertaining to arrests, indictments, etc.) to protect one of the bedrock principles of our criminal justice system—the presumption of innocence.

These two popular changes alone will help countless Pennsylvanians escape the unfair stigma attached to criminal records, allowing them to move on from past mistakes and look to their future. Hopefully, the bipartisan consensus on clean slate will spark additional changes in the commonwealth’s criminal justice system, including adoption of the Justice Reinvestment Initiative (JRI) legislation.

This legislation, which passed the Senate unanimously, would focus on transitioning people out of the criminal justice system and back into society while maintaining public safety. According to the Council of State Governments Justice Center, enacting JRI would reduce Pennsylvania’s prison population by nearly 700 people and save around $48 million.

While the savings to taxpayers is important, it pales in comparison to the larger moral concern of unnecessarily keeping people behind bars. No system should unjustly steal a portion of one’s life.

JRI begins to address this problem and would be a welcome next step in equipping the criminal justice system to make crime a temporary mistake rather than a way of life.