Newsletter Vol 3 No 1
January 2021
Don’t Miss This! “A Life Unraveled: A Conversation about Expungements, Pardons, and Overpolicing Communities”
You are invited to join Penn Law School’s Criminal Record Expungement Project in a conversation on pardons, expungements, overpolicing, and race. Panelists are: DeRay McKesson of Campaign Zero; Brandon Flood, Secretary of the Pennsylvania Board of Pardons; and Akeem Sims, the inaugural J. Gordon Cooney Fellow at PLSE; and moderated by PLSE Staff Attorney Taylor Pacheco. They will be discussing the role pardons and expungements play in the criminal justice system, how overcriminalization affects communities of color, and the barriers to full citizenship faced by those with records.

Tuesday, February 2, 12-1:15 pm via Zoom. Free ($ for CLE) but you must register. Part of TPIC’s Annual Public Interest Week.
PLSE Receives 2021 Innovation Award for Community Development
The Social Innovations Journal is a “regionally-focused, volunteer-driven online publication and knowledge lab… that chronicles social innovations and enterprises addressing the nation’s most challenging issues surrounding social policy, leadership, human capital, and systems.” Once each year, it invites business, non-profit and civic leaders from around the region to come together to celebrate the “social entrepreneurs who are reshaping our neighborhoods and communities, and whose ideas are inspiring people around the world.”

We are proud to report that on January 21, PLSE received top honors in the category of Human Services for promoting the cultivation of cross-sector & industry collaboration around the inter-generational damage being caused individuals, their families and neighborhoods by criminal history records; and the “no-cost workforce development and neighborhood investment” solution provided by pardons.

This is the first time that PLSE’s work has been publicly recognized as community development. It follows on the path-breaking report issued by The Economy League last April that documented $16.6 million flowing to communities across Pennsylvania simply because pardons allow individuals to compete for jobs they are qualified for.

Watch out, Chambers of Commerce and Business Round Tables: Here we come!
PA Treasurer Calls on Rating Agencies to Downgrade Criminal Court Fees and Costs
On January 14, PA State Treasurer Joseph Torsella released letters that he had issued to the nation’s top three bond rating agencies challenging them to see criminal court fees and costs as indicators of social problems and not as assets. Using the city of Ferguson as a case example, the Treasurer showed how the widespread use of criminal, traffic, and civil monetary penalties have shaped state and local finances in recent years, and potentially driven police misconduct.

PLSE co-signed the letter, as did many other civic leaders, including the Honorable Donna Bullock, Chair of the PA Legislative Black Caucus, and Philadelphia’s City Controller Rebecca Rhynhart.

In the press release accompanying the release of the letters, Rhynhart called on everyone to join in “understanding the disproportionate and negative impact these fines and fees have on communities of color throughout our country.” Ryan Allen Hancock, Co-Founder of PLSE and Chair of its Board, put the matter directly:

“The fees and costs that were assigned to our clients in cases often a decade or more ago - which would have been completely waived in the civil courts - amount to tens of millions of dollars. The courts will never see those fees paid. Carrying them as an asset is not just false: they are leg irons that keep the individuals and their families chained in poverty.”

Beginning last September, PLSE has been advocating for a change in the PA Rules of Criminal Procedure that would grant low-income defendants the same automatic waiver of costs and fees as is granted in the Rules of Civil Procedure. The Supreme Court has not indicated when it will consider that recommendation. Stay tuned.
PLSE Study on Criminal Court Fees and Costs Spotlighted by PA Treasurer and National Justice Center
Treasurer Torsella’s data included this fact: “Nationally, outstanding criminal justice debt totals $50 billion.” On this aspect, he cited (and linked to) a study that PLSE recently completed of our own clients. PLSE’s two Drexel Co-Op students, Tarik Kose and Isabella Falzone, examined the files of almost 1500 clients PLSE had accepted since January 2019 and looked only at criminal cases that were filed in 2013 or earlier. They found 1,744 dockets involving 605 clients. Examining each one, they determined that the total amount “owed” on those very-old cases was $1,007,251 – an average of $1,664.88 per client, and $577.55 per case/docket. There are solely costs and fees - they do not include fines or restitution – and clearly, not a penny of it, ever, will be collected.

The PLSE study Costs and Fees Charged To Indigent Criminal Defendants In Philadelphia County was shared with the PA Supreme Court’s Rules Committees and will soon be posted in the online Clearinghouse of the Washington DC-based Fines and Fees Justice Center.
Tarik Kose
Isabella Falzone
PLSE Teams with Duane Morris in Virtual Pardon Clinic on MLK Day of Service
Nineteen volunteers - attorneys, law students, and paralegals – from Duane Morris LLC came together with PLSE Staff Attorney Sarah Coyle at noon on January 18 to learn all about criminal record histories and the pardon process in PA, and then immediately to work helping low-income clients who have earned the second chance that only a pardon can provide.

The day began with a 90-minute CLE program (free for the lawyers) that included hearing from someone whose pardon application, recommended by the Board of Pardons last September, is (still) awaiting the Governor’s signature. (See story about the Governor’s tragic slowness in last month’s newsletter) At its end, each volunteer was matched with a client who had received pre instructions about how to log onto the zoom and what to expect. During the clinic, Sarah was available for support. Most of the volunteers were able to complete the pardon application with their clients in only a couple of hours. Those that did not complete the application have still made a great start and left energized and optimistic about their chances. AT LEAST 19 lives were changed in just one afternoon!
Katharyn I. Christian McGee, Pro Bono Counsel for Duane Morris, and Mercedes Nunez-Salgado, Pro Bono Administrator, organized the zoom rooms and prepared the clients for the clinic. They called it “a great day!” “This approach to pardon coaching was perfect,” Coyle added. “Mercedes and Kat are dedicated to helping clients and it really shows in their work.”
CLE + ZoomRooms + Pre-screened clients = Success!
If your law firm wants to make a big difference in just a short amount of time, contact us!
Will Governor Wolf Hear MLK??
Think of it as a “virtual” March to Harrisburg (instead of Selma). On MLK Day, our inaugural Mike Lee Fellow, Jarue Lawson, teamed up with our long-term community partner, People’s Emergency Center, to hold a one-hour virtual letter-writing workshop that was advertised by GlobalCitizen365, the national organization (born in Philadelphia) that advertises volunteer opportunities every day. “Over 200 completed Pardons are sitting on the Governor's Desk awaiting his signature,” it announced. “Join us for a quick step by step letter writing workshop - urging the Governor to finally provide justice.”

Think he’ll answer THIS time?!?!?
Schedule set: BOP Remains Virtual Throughout 2021!
Getting to Harrisburg from Erie, Mt. Lebanon, State College, Scranton, Chester, or even Philly – just for a 15-minute (max; sometimes 2) hearing and then driving back puts an enormous strain on individuals who cannot afford to miss work much less pay their ways. 

In 2020, law student volunteers from Rutgers School of Law (Camden) did the constitutional and statutory research and, with it, PLSE urged the PA Board of Pardons to see the virus not simply as an emergency but as an opportunity, and use Advanced Communications Technology as their Standard Operating Procedure. While they can always change their minds, the Board has now published their public meeting schedule, and that’s what they appear to be doing, Merit Reviews occurring at 3pm via Skype, and Public Hearings starting at 9am via Zoom: 

Merit Review February 4 - Public Hearings March 3-5
Merit Review May 6 - Public Hearings June 23-25
Merit Review August 5 - Public Hearings September 22-24
Merit Review October 28 - Public Hearings November 30 – December 2

Are you an Applicant or a Pardon Coach? If so, be sure to go to put the date(s) on your calendar, visit the BOP Website the week before, get the hyperlink, and plan to watch for an hour or two. It is honestly the best reality TV going!
Remembering the Summer of 2020, and Benefitting PLSE
Matthew Scott Barber is a transplant, coming to Philly in 2003 from “an extremely rural area to attend Temple University via an urban immersion program [that]educated us ignorant kids about social justice, racism and urban ethics.” That experience forever changed his world view. Fast forward to May 30, 2020, and the peaceful protest at City Hall in honor of George Floyd that descended into chaos. Now a recognized street photographer, his camera caught “the true pain of racism, the righteous anger of protest, the violence of division, and, in the end, the hope of unity.” The photos he took that day are collected in PHL/Black Lives Matter, and, following the lead of restaurateur Mike Solomonov who donated the proceeds of sales at his restaurants, and Isabel Friedman who donated the proceeds of her anti-racism face mask fund-raiser, Barber is donating all sales to PLSE “to help people receive a second chance at life.” Thank you, Matt!
PLSE Broadens Its Connections with Pittsburgh via Fellowships
As you’ve read in earlier newsletters, PLSE has become a statewide law project, and one of the largest “pardon communities” it has created is in Pittsburgh. In October, two Pitt Law graduates started eight-week Post-Graduate Fellowships at PLSE, learning about CHRIA, expungements and pardons, and then getting out in the field, working with clients, bar association leaders and legal aid organizations to help create pardon projects. One who lives in Oil City in Western PA, Rachael Stewart, worked with bar leaders there (Venango County) and in Erie and Washington Counties, while helping Philadelphia clients apply for pardons and editing a path-breaking report on people serving life sentences in Pennsylvania prisons, which is due out next month.

It was a packed eight weeks. Reflecting on her experience, she wrote: “At PLSE, I learned about the people that the justice system leaves behind.… There are limits to the criminal justice system that stop short of providing anything like equity or fairness, and outside those limits are real human beings. There are people who can’t get jobs at Walmart because of a mistake they made when they were just 18 – and people who were only punished and marginalized by the criminal justice system, never afforded access to the other goals of the system like rehabilitation and redemption. Expanding the justice system to reach them through pardons, to make sure no one gets left behind, seems like a huge, heartbreaking endeavor. But I learned that restorative justice is so important to society, and worth fighting for.”
This Month's Tip - PDFs of signatures ARE acceptable!
PLSE has over 100 Pardon Coaches helping clients with their applications. Most often, this is being done by phone and internet, with the Coach helping to type up the application and the client approving it by phone. But what’s to be done when it’s time for the applicant to sign Section 6. Should the Coach mail the whole application and all the supporting documents to the client so the client can sign, copy and mail the application in? The US Post Office is not just slow, it's losing thousands of pieces of mail. 

Appreciating the risks and the delays being caused by Covid, BOP Secretary Brandon Flood has agreed that the applicant can print and sign the final page and PDF it to the Coach; and the Coach can then add that PDF to the packet, copy/PDF it, and mail it in. 
Nice Notes
We appreciate the time, talent and treasurer of those who support PLSE. But it’s especially nice when we receive encouraging words. Here are a few we’ve recently received:

  • Rachael Stewart, speaking of her colleagues at PLSE (where she worked as a Fellow (see story, above): “These are people who truly care about the justice system and the individuals it leaves behind.”
  • Rachel Michener, commenting on why she made a significant contribution to PLSE: “My close friend right now is dealing with some things he's trying to get expunged off his record and it is incredibly frustrating, even considering the resources available to him. I can't imagine the fight for those less fortunate and having something that would hold you back in life when you are trying to fight through it. I hope the donations helps. THANK YOU so much for all of the good you guys do!”
Three Ways You Can Help:

  1. Sign Our Petition – or, even better, call Governor Wolf on the phone (717) 787-2500, and tell him to make signing pardons a priority! 
  2. Contact us to discuss hosting a Pardon Clinic at your business or non-profit, taking the Zoom training to be a Pardon Coach and then helping a pre-screened client complete a pardon application.
  3. Show your heart and hold a Valentine’s Day fundraiser for PLSE – Facebook is great for this! – asking friends to donate to us instead of bringing you flowers or chocolate … well, okay, in addition to flowers and chocolate! Or just donate directly while you’re thinking of it!  

Stay energized, optimistic and healthy,
Tobey Oxholm
Executive Director
Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity
1501 Cherry Street Philadelphia, PA 19102
(267) 519-5323