Newsletter Vol 2 No 3
April 2020
Breaking News!
PLSE Helps Secure Temporary Reprieve of 1500+ Prisoners
In case you missed the news story , on Friday Governor Wolf ordered the temporary reprieve of 1500 or more people serving time in state prison. Included in the program are non-violent inmates who are eligible for release within the next 9 months, and those who are considered at high risk for complications of coronavirus and within 12 months of their release. While you won’t see our name anywhere, PLSE played an integral role in the creation of the new program behind the scenes. We believe it is the largest temporary release of prisoners via reprieve in the history of the United States. Kudos to our staff attorneys Taylor Pacheco and Sarah Coyle for their great work! While we thank the Governor for his leadership, we will continue our advocacy in the courts and legislature to release more prisoners who are vulnerable to COVID-19.
Coping with COVID-19
Everyone’s world has been turned upside down. We hope this newsletter finds you – our 3500 readers – staying energized, optimistic and healthy. We here at PLSE are working remotely, of course, but putting our heads together and thinking about what the future brings.

Since our founding in 2011, low-income Philadelphians have accessed PLSE’s services through presentations and clinics we’ve held out in their neighborhoods. Thanks to partnerships with the United Way, several major foundations , and a rapidly expanding number of non-profits and social service agencies, we’ve been rapidly expanding our reach over the past 5 months. COVID-19 brought a quick and total stop to all of that. 

But the timing is so good for seeking pardons that we simply cannot wait to reschedule our clinics. What are we doing? Read on! 
Intake Goes Virtual
PLSE began as the Criminal Records Expungement Clinic in 2011 with our first intake, in the basement of Enon Tabernacle Baptist Church. We’ve held hundreds of intakes since then. All of that stopped with the coronavirus. Thanks to the help of our volunteer IT guru, Don Berliner, we are taking our intake online! Last week, we started working with our community partners to offer our services to their clients, patients, participants, and members!

Using the 13 years of Philadelphia criminal court data we purchased last year (before Clean Slate took the records off-line), we are able to see their full records and advise the clients about their options. For those who meet our income guidelines, we will prepare expungement petitions on their behalf, using a new Generator that was developed by volunteers with Code for Philadelphia. And we’ll be hiring paralegals to work with us (again online) to more quickly get the petitions ready to file with the Court.

We’re also working to put our pardon training programs online, so that we can start referring more clients to more Pardon Coaches. On March 27 we held our first online “Pardon Update” for those who had been trained before the virus hit: 73 people joined the call and heard all the good news about how pardons are becoming far more accessible in Pennsylvania [see “Board Makes History” below].

Please make a gift to PLSE to help speed this expansion of our services!
PLSE Expands Video Library
Late last month, we finalized and posted our video “People Change.” It personalizes how criminal history records unthinkingly and needlessly hurt people, families and society. This joins the first five peer-to-peer videos we completed last year that guide people through the different aspects of the pardon application process. Four more are in the works.

With thanks (again!) to the Thomas Skelton Harrison Foundation and Drexel University’s Dragon Productions , we will be doing another day of videoing Pardon Coaches who have gone through the pardon application process. And, most excitingly, the Board of Pardons will be helping us create videos showing clemency hearings in the room where it happens, the Supreme Courtroom in Harrisburg! All of this will happen in July.
Board of Pardons Secretary Meets, Pledges Close Partnerships with City Official, PLSE Steering Committee, Bar Leaders
On March 11, just before “social distancing” became the rule, Board of Pardons Secretary Brandon Flood came to Philadelphia for a day of meetings arranged by PLSE. The first was with Vanessa Garrett Harley, Deputy Managing Director for Criminal Justice, where the discussion centered on the importance of pardons to the City’s effort to get everyone working at their highest and best level.

Next, the Secretary met with representatives of PLSE’s Pardon Project Steering Committee (photo below, right), who shared their concerns about the unreasonably intrusive questions the Board asks when investigating all pardon applicants, like whether they go to church, wife’s maiden name, where they bank and how much money they have in their banks accounts, square footage of their homes, market value of their car, whether they have any credit card debt, and ten years of employment and home addresses. The Secretary assured them that he and the Board were interested in their feedback and would respond to any suggestions they made. 
And then, the Secretary met with the leadership of four major bar associations: Philadelphia Bar Association (including all three Chancellors and two Board Chairs), Barristers Association of Philadelphia (African American), Louis J. Brandeis Law Society (Jewish), and Hispanic Bar Association of Pennsylvania (photo above, left). This was the first time the leaders had met in common purpose in over 30 years. The topic was the urgency of reforming and expediting the pardon system: The bar leaders expressed their appreciation to the Secretary and the Board of Pardons for all of the reforms they had made over the past year, and confirmed their commitment to continue working with the Board to speed the process while better respecting the rights of applicants. In turn, the Secretary thanked them for helping to elevate the importance of pardons and commutations, and confirmed his eagerness to continue working with them to improve the clemency system in Pennsylvania.

We thank the Secretary, his staff, and the Board for the respect they have given to all stakeholders and for their continued partnership.
Board of Pardons Makes History, Recommends Pardons for 26 in Single Vote
The Board of Pardons holds hearings quarterly, typically scheduling three days of hearings per session with two days devoted to pardons (the third to commutations). Over the past year, it has set records in deciding 100 cases over those two days. Last month, the Board held only one day of pardon hearings . . . but the Board heard and decided 95 pardon applications in just that one day, and voted to recommend 82 of them (86.3%)!

What was most remarkable: the Board approved 26 pardon applications in a single vote , rather than vote on each applicant separately, and the 26 had been excused from having to come to Harrisburg for the hearing! Since attendance requires missing work, traveling long distance, and (for many) the cost of overnight stays and meals, this new procedure not only enables many more cases to be heard per day, but makes the pardon process accessible in very practical ways to thousands for whom Harrisburg is just too far away.

This is just another example of how thoughtfully and thoroughly the Board of Pardons is rethinking the pardon process.
Oxholm Appointed Executive Director
Following the departure of Phoenicia Wallace , Tobey Oxholm will remain as PLSE's Executive Director for the next few years. We thank both Phoenicia and Tobey for their leadership and service to PLSE.
Three ways you can help:

This month, at this time, please:

  1. Honor the Governor’s Orders to stay home unless it’s absolutely necessary, helping others whenever and however you safely can.
  2. Keep in your thoughts and prayers those whose jobs and services require them to remain working for the good of others.
  3. Stay energized, optimistic and healthy! Once all of this passes, we will need you with us with renewed commitment and resolve!

Want to do more or learn more about the work we do? Write us at or call at 267-519-5323.

Katherine Zuk
Director of Communications & Outreach
Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity

1501 Cherry Street Philadelphia, PA 19102
(267) 519-5323