As new Pa. law allows sealing some criminal offenses, Philly sets free clinics to assist in process

Officials discuss details of the free clinics planned in Philadelphia to help those who qualify expunge some criminal offenses. The clinics in six locations are set for the same day a new Pennsylvania law expanding criminal record sealing goes into effect. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

Officials discuss details of the free clinics planned in Philadelphia to help those who qualify expunge some criminal offenses. The clinics in six locations are set for the same day a new Pennsylvania law expanding criminal record sealing goes into effect. (Aaron Moselle/WHYY)

Philadelphia will soon offer low-income residents with criminal pasts the chance to have their records expunged or sealed for free.

Mayor Jim Kenney announced Tuesday the city will host a one-day clinic on Nov. 12 at locations around the city.

“Having a record expunged or sealed can allow a person to pursue permanent employment or housing that would otherwise not be available to them,” said Kenney. “It can dramatically improve an individual’s quality of life and lower their chances of recidivism and, hence, also improve our community at large.”

The clinic will take place the same day a new Pennsylvania law expanding criminal record sealing goes into effect. Act 5 allows some minor offenses to be hidden from the general public, including potential employers running a background check on an applicant.

“This is about [ex-convicts] finally being able to put their lives back together for something that they may have done 10, 20 years ago,” said state Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, who pushed for the bill.

Charges that can be sealed under Act 5 include disorderly conduct, drug possession or DUI.

Residents can’t take advantage of the new law if they’ve been convicted of any felonies, first-degree misdemeanors or second-degree simple assault.

They also must be free of any arrests or convictions for at least a decade after serving their sentence, have fewer than four misdemeanor convictions, and have paid all fines and costs owed on their case.

Clinic participants will also have the chance to have their criminal records expunged — permanently erased.

That process can typically take six months to a year to complete after filing the proper paperwork. Clinic organizers hope that the event can help dramatically reduce that timeline for participants. The goal is have them walk out with their records expunged or sealed.

The Philadelphia Bar Association, one of the partners helping to host the clinic, estimates that more than 30,000 residents are eligible to participate.

To qualify for free assistance, individuals must net less than $25,000 a year; families less than $50,000.

The three-hour event will be held at six locations, each staffed by trained volunteer attorneys.

They are:

Francis J. Myers Recreation Center in Kingsessing
Athletic Recreation Center in Brewerytown
Waterview Recreation Center in East Germantown
Vare Recreation Center in Point Breeze
Shepard Recreation Center in Haddington
Rivera Recreation Center in Fairhill

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