What is a pardon?
A pardon means you have been forgiven by the government for the crime you committed, and leads to having your convictions erased from your record. After a pardon, you don’t have to “check the box” when filling out an application, nor do you have to tell anyone that you were ever convicted. There are SO many ways that a pardon can help expand your opportunities and create a better life for yourself and your family. For more detailed information about pardons in Pennsylvania, visit our Self Help page.START A PARDONEN ESPAÑOL
In October 2018, PLSE launched the Pardon Project: a new initiative to help low-income Philadelphians clean up their criminal records.
Since then, the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons has made “revolutionary” changes to the policies, procedures, and forms involved in seeking a pardon. Today the form is shorter, the process faster, and the success rate INCREDIBLY high: over 50% of those who apply – and over 85% of those granted a hearing – actually end up with a pardon from the Governor!
Because the forms and procedures are now SO much easier, almost anyone can help. PLSE is partnering with respected organizations in low-income/ high-arrest communities and teaching them how to help. And PLSE has created a video library where you can hear from people who have actually gone through the process!
ECONOMY LEAGUE ANALYSIS 2020
Pardons can contribute to economic development in READ THE REPORT
communities across the commonwealth
Why are pardons important?
Pardons can have a significant positive impact not only on the lives of recipients, but also on the economic development of their communities.
Watch People Change to see the harm that criminal records inflict on people who are trying to do their best – and watch Why is a Pardon Important? to hear from those who have gone through the pardon application process
If you are ever arrested in Pennsylvania and charged with a crime, even if you never had to go to court on it or if you were found not guilty, you have a criminal record. Every crime you were charged with is permanently available to the police and prosecutors, and every conviction is available 24/7/365 for free.
There are laws against using that information to discriminate against people, but it happens all the time: 90% of employers, 80% of landlords, and 67% of colleges screen for criminal records. Criminal records are used to exclude people from thousands of jobs, professions, schools and even trades that are licensed by the state where “good moral character” is a requirement for admission.
The only way to get something taken off your (permanent) criminal record is for a Judge to Order that it be erased (expunged). A Judge can do this for arrests that did not result in a conviction, and for convictions for summary offenses (like disorderly conduct, obstructing a highway, retail theft (under $150), underage drinking, public drunkenness) if you’ve not been arrested for more than 5 years. For anything else – and for all misdemeanor and felony convictions, even if they were decades ago – you have to get a pardon from the Governor.
People change; records don’t. As the executive director of the Fels Fund recently said, “It’s crushing that what someone was charged with 10 or 15 years ago, very often when they were young adults, can completely wipe out everything that person has done since then to improve themselves, even if they have accepted responsibility.”
The Pardon Project was created to give people who have improved themselves a realistic chance to stop being defined by the worst things they’ve done in their lives.
While lawyers can be very helpful, they are out of reach for most people with modest family incomes. What’s needed is information, guidance, help and support along the way, and this can be done by anyone who has been trained, who is not afraid of government forms, and who has the desire to help others. That’s where PLSE comes in.
Today, the Board of Pardons merit reviews only 600 applications per year from across the whole state. PLSE envisions a system where the Board receives thousands of well-written applications each year just from low-income Philadelphians, where the state responds more efficiently and successfully with investigative strategies better suiting the variety of situations presented in the applications, and where a realistic hope of civic forgiveness within a reasonable period can be offered to all those who have demonstrably transformed their lives, regardless of race, ethnicity, or economic status. PLSE sees this not only as a matter of social justice, but as a crucial component of community economic development in a city and a state that desperately needs all its residents producing at their highest and best abilities.
Path to a Pardon