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Pennsylvania Begins Allowing Requests for Sealing Criminal Records

By Michael Klazema on 1/17/2019

The process of reintegrating individuals with criminal records into society has proven to be a complex challenge for decades. The need to reduce recidivism while maintaining public safety has often resulted in patchwork policies that do not yield satisfactory results. In recent years, legislative efforts such as those that ban the box on job applications asking about criminal records have sought to increase job opportunities for former convicts. 

A criminal record can serve as a roadblock even when employers are meant to be held to standards of non-discrimination. This reality has led to a rise in efforts to expand opportunities for those convicted of less serious crimes. In expungement cases, the criminal conviction is "erased" from an individual's criminal records. In other cases, the conviction can be sealed.

Sealed records are still available to certain groups but are publicly considered not to exist. A typical state-level background check from backgroundchecks.com will not return records expunged by a court order or placed under seal. Keeping sealed and expunged records from negatively influencing employers can allow individuals greater options and improved freedom to seek jobs.

Recently, Pennsylvania moved to expand access to the sealing process for certain classes of criminal offenses. Originally signed into law during summer 2018, the new rules came into effect just before the start of 2019. Unique in the nation, the law implements a "Clean Slate" program. Under this system's rules, individuals with minor convictions may request a seal if they do not commit any subsequent offenses within ten years of the original crime. Through this program, individuals can work on rebuilding their lives and seeking employment.

The Clean Slate law goes further than providing options for individuals with convictions. It also allows the automatic sealing of several types of records with no action required on the individual's part. Arrests that do not generate convictions, for example, will now go under seal after two months. Minor misdemeanors in the second and third degrees will also automatically be sealed for individuals who have reached the decade-long crime-free period. 

The law does not provide for sealing serious offenses, including sexual assaults, murders, and other high-level crimes.

Supporters believe the new options in Pennsylvania for those seeking a clean slate represent a step forward in the effort to broaden employment opportunities while reducing the number of people who re-offend. Untangling the rules and regulations in place in different jurisdictions can be a challenge: even in areas where sealing and expungement are available, the process of taking advantage of that opportunity can be opaque. 

backgroundchecks.com, through our independent program called MyClearStart, provides individuals with an easy way to assess their eligibility and determine potential next steps. When the time for a second chance arrives, you can seize the opportunity to explore the services available to you. 


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