Pennsylvania will start sealing millions of criminal records Friday as part of a Clean Slate bill signed into law last year.
The law aims to help people with criminal records get their lives back on track, and will wipe out more than half of the charges in the state court’s database by the time it’s fully implemented next year, officials say.
Gov. Tom Wolf says Pennsylvania is the first state to implement the law, but other states are working on similar measures.
Here’s what you should know:
What’s the law about?
The Clean Slate law passed with a near unanimous vote in Pennsylvania last year.
The automatic sealing provision goes into effect Friday, and courts have until June next year to seal 30 million records automatically without people filing court petitions, according to the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
“I am proud to sign this legislation, which will make it easier for those who have interacted with the justice system to reduce the stigma they face when looking for employment and housing,” Wolf said at the signing last year.
Will all criminal records be sealed?
Those whose records are eligible for sealing include people who’ve been found not guilty in court or those who committed nonviolent crimes more than 10 years ago. Misdemeanor offenses that included less than two years in prison will also be sealed. So will criminal history charges that resulted in no convictions, the governor says. To get your records sealed, you must have paid all your court fines.
“The Clean Slate bill helps us accomplish something I have worked hard to do since I took office, make our criminal justice system fairer, more equitable, and more focused on rehabilitation,” Wolf said. “Passage of the Clean Slate law allows for many people to move on with their lives with greater chances for success. This means better career, housing and education options.”
Which crimes are not eligible to be sealed?
Those who’ve been found guilty of serious crimes such as violence, sexual assault, homicide and child endangerment are not eligible to have their records sealed.
What happens once records are sealed?
Sealed records will not show up on background checks used by a majority of employers, landlords and colleges, according to the Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.
“If information regarding criminal history is requested by an employer, school or landlord, a person whose cases has been sealed by Clean Slate may respond as if the offense did not occur. If your whole record has been sealed, you can say you do not have any record,” the organization says.
But while the records will stay hidden from public view, they will remain visible to law enforcement agencies, employers who are required to consider records under federal law and those who use FBI background checks.
Will this become a nationwide effort?
It may catch on.
Between 70 million and 100 million American have some kind of criminal record, which makes it difficult to get into college, find a job, or secure a place to live, according to the Center for American Progress.
While Pennsylvania became the first state to sign the Clean Slate legislation last year, similar measures are catching on in other statessuch as Michigan and Colorado.
A similar legislation that aims to automatically clear certain federal records was introduced in Congress last year.