Harris: People deserve a second chance

HARRISBURG, June 10 – Joined by state Reps. Patty Kim, D-Dauphin, and Cris Dush, R-Jefferson/Indiana, along with Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association members, state Rep. Jordan Harris, D-Phila., called for support for bipartisan legislation to permit expungement of specific offenses from a person’s criminal record provided certain criteria are met.

“Far too often, I’m hearing about constituents who made a mistake when they were younger and have been paying the price ever since for their conviction,” Harris said. “This legislation would give people who meet the criteria an opportunity to move past their transgressions and not be held out of potential job opportunities to better their life.”

Kim said, "We need to make record expungement more accessible because if we don't reform the current system, a completed sentence turns into an indefinite sentence. Non-violent offenders who have become law-abiding citizens deserve the chance to find gainful employment and housing."

Dush added, “Everyone makes mistakes in their lives. When I was growing up, families were more intact. Police often would bring a youth who had made a misdemeanor mistake back to the parents and the father would be certain to take care of it without getting the courts involved.

“The unfortunate reality today is that we’ve devalued the family and, as a result, there is not often the kind of accountability in the home the police and courts could rely on to correct youthful indiscretion. As a result, our sentencing laws and the officer discretion have been curtailed and offenses that used to be taken care of in the ‘home court’ are now taken care of in the court of common pleas.”

Also attending were Montgomery County District Attorney Risa Ferman and Berks County District Attorney John Adams, both of the Pennsylvania District Attorney’s Association, which supports the legislation.

"Part of our job as prosecutors is to prevent crime from happening in the first place,” said Ferman, association vice president. “Former offenders with jobs are less likely to become repeat offenders than former offenders without jobs. At the same time, the legislation strikes an important balance by also taking into consideration the need for law enforcement to have appropriate access to these records, should the ex-offender re-offend."

Adams said, “In the criminal justice system, our concern is that people learn from their mistakes. Through this bill, we are giving people an incentive to do the right thing. This will help people who have changed their lives move on from past mistakes.”

Reiterating that point, Dush said, “The young offenders who learn their lesson and have corrected the course of their lives do not today have the benefit of the grace given by society in the past. This bill restores that sense of grace and a second chance in life to those who demonstrate through years of good citizenship they are worthy of it.”

The bill would allow a person convicted of a misdemeanor of the third degree or a misdemeanor of the second degree, if at least seven or 10 years have passed, respectively, since they completed their sentence, to request the opportunity to appear before a judge and request an order for limited access of their criminal record. Criminal justice and government agencies would not be subject to the order for limited access, and they would still be able to see a person’s entire criminal record information.

All violent offenses punishable by imprisonment of more than two years, and many others of a serious nature, would be prohibited from being subject to an order for limited access under the bill.