Allegheny County District Attorney Steve Zappela wrote recently in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette: Last year, the state Legislature passed a law that offers the chance to seal old, minor criminal records for people who stay out of trouble. While that was a good start to help people rebuild their lives and reputations, there is a next step that should be taken.
The law now requires Pennsylvanians who stay out of trouble for 10 years to go through a time-consuming and cumbersome process to seal their records, a process that includes a court hearing and the payment of a filing fee.
The General Assembly can ease that burden by passing the Clean Slate Act. The act would make the sealing of these records automatic after 10 years for nonviolent offenders who stay out of trouble. The courts and police agencies would work together to accurately and automatically seal these criminal records within two months of an offender’s eligibility. Those who qualify would simply be notified by mail that their records have been sealed. They would not have to go through a hearing, pay a fee or hire a lawyer.
Criminal background checks are necessary and serve an important function. Employers, landlords and schools should know if there is something in a candidate’s past that makes that person a danger or liability. The Clean Slate Act would not inhibit background checks. What it would do is allow nonviolent offenders who remain crime-free for a decade to apply for housing, jobs and schools, knowing that a long-ago minor crime will not stand in the way of their applications being considered.
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