A conviction for a low-level crime shouldn’t come with a life sentence.
But many Pennsylvanians who undergo background checks when they seek jobs or housing are haunted by such past indiscretions for years after they commit them.
That is going to change under a new Pennsylvania law that will automatically seal records of most second- or third-degree misdemeanor offenses from public databases if a person has been conviction-free for 10 years.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed the so-called Clean Slate Bill into law and it takes effect next year. It’s the first law of its kind in the nation.
The new law rightfully doesn’t apply to more serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, child endangerment, sexual offenses and firearms charges.
And it won’t completely erase eligible people’s criminal records because police, courts and prosecutors will still be able to see them.
But it means employers and landlords doing background checks on job applicants and would-be tenants won’t see records of crimes including disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, shoplifting and some DUI offenses that happened more than a decade ago as long as the person has stayed out of trouble since.
That will make a difference in many Pennsylvanians’ lives. Nearly one in three Pennsylvania adults has a criminal record and, while not all of them will benefit from the new law, a significant number will.
For many of them, a better life is out of reach because they have to check a box on an application indicating they have a criminal record or a background check turns up an old, minor scrape with the law.
The new law could help them secure better jobs, better housing and a better quality of life, and that would be good for communities and the state as a whole.
And perhaps it will serve as an incentive for people who fouled up in a minor way to stay out of trouble because they know they’ll be able to put their past indiscretions behind them or at least out of public view if they do.
Pittsburgh Tribune-Review | AP