Newsletter Vol 1 No 5
October 2019
PLSE's New Executive Director and Staff
With increased support from the United Way, the Samuel S. Fels Fund, a first-time grant from Women's Way, and a multi-year grant from the international Oak Foundation, PLSE has assembled an amazing staff. Joining us within the past 45 days have been attorneys Sarah Coyle and Taylor Pacheco, both in their third year of practice, and Phoenicia Wallace as Executive Director. Phoenicia joined PLSE on October 1st from the Office of the PA Attorney General.

"I am both delighted and humbled to join such a committed, energetic, and passionate team," says Wallace. "PLSE is perfectly positioned to help bring about significant and permanent change in Pennsylvania that will empower thousands of people to pursue their potential," she adds, "and our new team members are allowing us to be present in the communities that need us most."
The bios of PLSE's staff can be found here.
United Way Calls PLSE a "Wind of Change," Funds Staff Attorney
"It is undeniable that criminal records are a major factor in keeping people in poverty." So said the directors of both Philadelphia's and Pittsburgh's workforce development boards. The United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ) has taken this major step further, identifying the removal of criminal records as being key to ending inter-generational poverty. UWGPSNJ started funding PLSE in 2018, encouraging us to form the first two Pardon Hubs. Having read the report on our Pardon Project's first year, United Way just announced it was increasing its investment to the point where it is now almost fully funding one our staff attorneys.

"We have watched PLSE's Pardon Project grow from a concept to a wind of change that is bringing much-needed hope to families and communities," says Dr. Nikia Owens, Director of UWGPSNJ's Financial Stability team. "We cannot wait for more of our member agencies to partner with PLSE."
Board of Pardons Adopts Accelerated Hearing Program
Earlier this year, organizations as diverse as the Southeastern Pennsylvania Manufacturing Council, District Council, 1199C, UNITEHERE Local 634, Brown's Super Stores, and the Philadelphia Bar Association, among others, joined PLSE in calling on the Board of Pardons (BoP) to do its best to shorten the time between filing and public hearing from three years to one.
On September 25, Gov. Tom Wolf and Lt. Gov. John Fetterman announced that the BoP would start down this path with people who had been convicted of possessing small amounts of marijuana and/or drug paraphernalia, as long as violence was not involved. The new approach could apply to tens of thousands of people. PLSE has been invited by the Board's Secretary, Brandon Flood, to propose changes to the application form and process that would simplify the background investigation and expedite the hearings, which now take more than two years. The first accelerated hearings are expected to occur in early 2020.
Phila. Bar Association Urges Major Reform in Background Investigations of Pardon Applicants
As it should, the Board of Pardons investigates every applicants who applies for a pardon. Over the past year, PLSE has been working with the leadership of the Board of Pardons to review that process. A major part of the investigation has been to delve into the applicant's personal financial situation, on the theory that those. who don't have much money are more likely to turn to crime again. PLSE has provided the Board with scientific reports and legal citations to show that this theory is simply a prejudice that is not just wrong but probably unconstitutional, because it violates the promise that all people will be treated the same regardless of income.

To support this reform initiative, the Board of Governors of the Philadelphia Bar Association unanimously adopted a Resolution calling on the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania to discontinue the practice of considering assets, income, or wealth when conducting investigations of applications for pardon.

The Board of Pardons has appreciated the Bar Association's input in the past and may consider the issue when it next meets in December.
Today's Pardon Tip: What's a "Representative"?
The newly-revised Application for Clemency asks for information about a "Representative." Essentially, this is asking for a secondary or emergency contact in case the Board of Pardons is unable to reach an applicant. This "Representative" can be a lawyer, spouse, family member, close friend, or anyone else that you stay in touch with. Be sure to ask them if they can be listed on the application and let them know why it's important: the pardon process can take two years sometimes and it's important to have a backup.
Praise from PLSE's Contributors
It's wonderful to receive contributions. Each one is accompanied by messages like "Keep going!" These little notes inspire us. Here's a recent message we received:
"It's easy and our pleasure to support a project like this where the passion and creative energy is so obvious."
Thank you so much, Helen and Miner! We promise to use your contribution well.
Three ways you can help:

  1. Have your organization join PLSE and others in calling for pardon applications to be heard within one year. Adopt the Resolution today.
  2. Contribute to the United Way and designate part of your gift for PLSE. Our donor number is 54185!
  3. Become a monthly supporter! Any amount allows us to help another client.

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