FILE - PA Tom Wolf 6-28-2019

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf addresses a news conference June 28, 2019, on the state's Clean Slate law.

Without lifting a finger, as many as 30 million Pennsylvania residents may be about to see their lives get a whole lot easier.

Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate law, signed by the governor a year ago, went into effect Friday. The law automatically seals the criminal records of people who had a nonviolent offense more than 10 years ago and paid all their court fees and fines without having any followup offenses.

According to the officials and advocates who spoke at a news conference Friday to mark the law going into effect, in its absence millions of people have had difficulty in finding work or housing due to long-ago offenses.

“No longer will people with a minor nonviolent infraction be haunted by a mistake that they made 10 years earlier or more,” said state Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Camp Hill. “Some of these records … go back into the ’70s and the ’60s. They've been dealing with this for a lot longer than 10 years, but we're starting [to fix] it right now.”

According to Delozier, the 30 million people who stand to benefit from the Clean Slate law include 23 million cases where there was no conviction, 17 million where there was a summary judgment and 84,000 misdemeanors.

Getting all those records sealed is a tall order, and it won’t happen overnight. Officials estimated that about 2.5 million will be sealed each month, with the process completing in a year.

“We're here because we are all of us justice advocates,” said Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf at Friday’s news conference. “Justice for the victim – we want a just punishment for the crime. We want no more than that, we want no less. And we all agree that it isn't fair for a person who commits a minor crime to be punished with a lifetime of being unable to get a job or to rent an apartment.”

State Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Philadelphia, who has partnered with Delozier on a number of criminal justice efforts, talked about how important the Clean Slate law is to helping jumpstart Pennsylvania’s economy.

“This is a jobs bill,” he said. “If we don't help people get back to work, if we don't help them – we know in Pennsylvania that we have a 60 percent recidivism rate. If we want to fix roads and bridges, let's keep people out of prison. If we want to invest in schools, let's keep people out of prison. What we know is that Clean Slate will help us do just that.”

Harris’s comments were enthusiastically echoed by Gene Barr, president of the Pennsylvania Chamber of Business and Industry, who admitted that historically, criminal justice wasn’t the kind of issue that his organization tended to be involved with.

“We've got a whole lot of people who just simply cannot take advantage of the economy that we have, of the open jobs and being able to move themselves forward to put themselves and move themselves and their families forward and make a better life for themselves and their families because a mistake that they made years ago is holding them back,” Barr said. “So for us, it's a workforce issue.”

Pennsylvania residents who want to see where they stand under the Clean Slate law can get more information at MyCleanSlatePA.com.

Regional Editor

Dave Lemery is a veteran journalist with more than 20 years of experience. He was the editor of Suburban Life Media when its flagship newspaper was named best weekly in Illinois, and he has worked at papers in South Carolina, Indiana, Idaho and New York.