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Newsletter Vol 6 No 2

February 2024

PLSE Partners with Elected Officials at North Philly Record Clearing Clinic

Last Saturday, Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity partnered with Rep. Darisha K. Parker, along with Sen. Sharif Street, and Rep. Danilo Burgos, to provide record-clearing services to community members at Greater St. Matthew Baptist Church at 16th and Wingohocking Streets in North Philadelphia. PLSE staff completed intakes and reviewed criminal records for over 100 participants, the first step on their path towards futures unburdened by records and filled with new opportunities. 

Participants braved the rain, lining up hours before the event which was rescheduled from its original date two weeks prior due to forecasted snow. In addition to PLSE staff, representatives from employers, city agencies, and other service providers were present to connect attendees with job opportunities and resources. Thank you to Reps. Parker and Burgos, Sen. Street, and Bishop Steven Avinger for their support and hospitality. If you would like to learn more about hosting a record-clearing clinic or community education session, email PLSE Program Director Patrick Jackson Keough at 

Exciting News: Progress Achieved for Occupational License Applicants with Criminal Records!

Occupational licensing directly affects nearly 30 percent of U.S. workers. In 2020, the Pennsylvania General Assembly adopted a law that limited the use of criminal records in state licensure proceedings. Before, the Board had the discretion to disqualify someone they deemed lacking “good moral character”. The law eliminated that criterion and made it clear that a disqualifying offense had to be “directly related” to the license being sought. A wonderful change, right? 

Two years later, the Bureau of Professional and Occupational Affairs finally issued the regulations it proposed to implement that law without success. Their view was any conviction, for any crime, no matter how long ago it occurred, created the presumption that the individual was “a threat to society”. The disqualified individual could request a hearing to“present evidence of fitness”, but a lack of clarity about the procedure, the delay it caused, and the logistical and practical challenges resulting from an appeal made it an ineffective remedy for most license applicants. PLSE, the Pardon Project Steering Committee, Community Legal Services, the ACLU – even the sponsors of the bill - objected mightily and then were left to wait. 

In February 2024, 14 months later, the Bureau issued a revised set of regulations. The new rule prohibits the bureau from considering any criminal record dating back more than 5 years unless it is a crime that is specifically associated with the specific occupation or profession (which the regulations now list). Summarizing the many recidivism studies, the Acting Commissioner wrote:

“About 5 years after it was committed, then, a prior offense may no longer be indicative of an individual’s likelihood of committing future offenses, and the offense may no longer have a “direct bearing” on necessary job duties and responsibilities. An applicant should not be prescriptively penalized for past conduct that, as research shows, may give no indication of the applicant’s likelihood of reoffending.”

This is great progress and we hope these reforms will serve as a model for other state agencies and bodies, including the Board of Pardons. 

Pardon Reform Needed at Federal Level

At PLSE, we commonly get questions about pardons for federal convictions and all we can do is share information about how to apply along with the caveat that the process is a long shot for the majority of ordinary people. The application is complex and lengthy, the wait is long, and rarely anything comes of it. A February 28, 2024 article in Bloomberg Law notes that by the end of 2022, there were over 16,000 clemency applications awaiting action with President Biden only having granted 13 pardons and 124 commutations, to date. The new Pardon Attorney at the Department of Justice has implemented the first significant changes to the process in 20 years by simplifying the application and cutting the backlog in approximately half (mostly by denying applications). Despite this, the process remains ineffective as a remedy for ordinary individuals with federal convictions. 

Former PLSE ED Renee Chenault Fattah Honored by Philadelphia City Council

On February 26th, 2024, former PLSE Executive Director Renee Chenault Fattah was honored by the Philadelphia City Council with a Proclamation sponsored by Councilwoman Cindy Bass. The Proclamation cites her distinguished career as a lawyer and journalist, her work on behalf of those affected by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia, her advocacy for individuals with criminal records, and her service to numerous educational, cultural, and philanthropic organizations in Philadelphia and beyond. We are continually grateful for her leadership and service to PLSE. Congratulations, Renee, on this well-deserved honor. 

West Philly Becomes First “Pardon Network” In The County

We’ve established Pardon Projects in almost 25 counties across the commonwealth, linking them all together so they can share resources and best practices. Why not apply this model on a neighborhood scale within a county like Philadelphia? Creating a “Pardon Network” was the idea of filmmaker Shuja Moore, whose family has lived in West Philadelphia for four generations. Using the strong community connections nurtured by Shuja and his family, 15 civic, business and non-profit leaders came together in January to discuss the blight and harm criminal records inflict on neighborhoods. They emerged united and committed to making access to pardons a neighborhood priority. On February 14, the Paul Robeson House was packed with people gathered to watch a screening of Shuja’s film Pardon Me and discuss the next steps. Since then, two Pardon Coach trainings have been held and a Westy Philadelphia Pardon Network website, went online containing loads of information tailored to the specific needs of that community.

State Rep. Rick Krajewski attended the screening and shared his excitement: “This is going to be great,” he said, pledging to do whatever he could to support the initiative, not only in his district but in other neighborhoods across Philadelphia and Pennsylvania. “Everybody needs to know about this.”

560 Miles, 7 Projects, 1 Month

February was quite the busy month for the Pardon Project at Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity! It began In Stroudsburg with a meeting of the Pardon Project of Monroe County, which is hosted by the Monroe County Bar Association. Then there was the launch of the West Philly Pardon Network (see the article above). That was followed by a two-day, 440-mile swing through Central Pennsylvania with an exploratory meeting for the Pardon Project of Dauphin County (spearheaded by State Rep. Patty Kim), the kickoff of the Pardon Project of Cumberland County (hosted by Penn State Dickinson Law School and the Cumberland County Bar Association, a brainstorming session with Mid-Penn Legal Services in Gettysburg (Adams County), and another in Schuylkill County with the Second Chance Training Center, Volunteers in Medicine, and Schuylkill Community Action. Finally, it ended at Temple University with the well-attended and wonderfully produced “Second Chances: Pardon Me” event hosted by Temple University Libraries, with an amazing panel of speakers that followed a screening of Shuja Moore’s film. We are working to establish a Pardon Hub for North Philly at Temple; keep an eye out for updates in subsequent issues of this newsletter!

Your Help Needed: New Criminal and Juvenile Justice Debt Relief Program

In its FY2024 budget, the City of Philadelphia earmarked $5 million to help pay down Philadelphians’ criminal legal debt. The Managing Director’s Office (MDO) created the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Debt Relief Program to administer the funds. Freeing Philadelphians from criminal legal debt will not only remove a major barrier to successful re-entry, but also lead to record sealing, increased employment opportunities, and expanded access to housing. At the same time, it will enable full payment of restitution to victims. 

The program needs volunteers. 

On March 5 at noon, the Philly Bar is hosted a CLE Program that will provide volunteers to the MDO in reviewing dockets, determining eligibility, and aiding low-income Philadelphians with fee waiver petitions, sealing petitions, and pardons. Don’t worry if you missed the event. You can contact Erin Sweeney, Esq., Manager, Office of Policy and Strategic Initiatives, Criminal Justice, and Public Safety at the Managing Director's Office of the City of Philadelphia.

Staff Spotlight: Moriah Mendicino

Moriah Mendicino, Esq, is our Equal Justice Works Fellow Attorney. She has made a huge impact at Philadelphia community organizations, highlighting the public health aspects of criminal records, and making PLSE's services more widely available. A part of Moriah's work includes working with the New Kensington Community Development Corporation, where she holds regular “office hours” and successfully fills a need in that neighborhood.

Moriah began representing clients in expungement court in November. Her compassion and competence make her an effective advocate for our expungement clients. After a variety of successful hearings, we can say for sure that Moriah is a great success!

Moriah has volunteered to take on a myriad of work recently, and we are all thankful and impressed. With a robust background in education, it has only made sense for Moriah to take on a role leading PLSE trainings. Moriah graciously agreed to train our staff on Clean Slate 3.0 and did a beautiful job. This work needed to be done, and she was right there to volunteer!

Additionally, Moriah has led a CLE training for the Barrister's Association and continued to train pardon applicants on how to navigate their hearings. Keep up the good work, Moriah, and take a break soon!

Three ways YOU can help:

  1. Donate to PLSE: 
  2. Volunteer with the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Debt Relief Program: Contact Erin Sweeney, Esq., at the City of Philadelphia’s Managing Director’s Office. 
  3. Learn more about hosting or volunteering at a record-clearing clinic: email Program Director Patrick Jackson Keough at

Because Social Justice Requires Social Action

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity
230 S. Broad Street, Suite 1102, Philadelphia PA 19102
(267) 519-5323
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