The numbers tell the story about what happened when the the Philadelphia Bar Association’s young lawyers division offered people with criminal records a chance to have their rap sheets sealed, expunged, or redacted tomorrow, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports: 1,853 people signed up for free clinics. Of those, 1,200 will likely get a cleaned-up record. Some 175 lawyers, paralegals, and law students volunteered to help them at six locations. Three branches and two levels of government cooperated and coordinated efforts. “I never imagined it would be as big as it was,” said John Coyle, a lawyer for the city who helped lead the effort. “They had to close registration.” While questions can be raised about whether a record-sealing process can work in the age of Google, research in Michigan shows that setting aside some criminal records reduces recidivism and improves employability and earning power.
In April, the city won a $3.5 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation to reduce the city’s prison population by a third. A key component is making sure people released from prison don’t return. On Monday, new amendments to a state law will go into effect that allow people with certain types of misdemeanors to ask the courts to seal their records so that they are available only to law enforcement, and not to the general public. Next week, lawmakers, advocates, and city and state officials will gather in Harrisburg to talk about a proposed Clean Slate bill that would automatically erase arrests without convictions and certain offenses from a person’s criminal record after a period of time with no need for an expensive court petition. Police would still have access.