On June 17, 2013, Senate Bill 391 was cleared by the Pennsylvania Senate Appropriations Committee and may progress to the Senate floor. Senate Bill 391 was introduced by Senator Tim Solobay with the intention of providing a second chance to former offenders. Senator Solobay believes that the bill will reduce recidivism rates and subsequently reduce the average amount that the state spends on housing prisoners each year.
Pennsylvania’s current expungement law only allows for an offender to expunge a misdemeanor or felony conviction under two circumstances. An eligible offender must either be over the age of seventy, or they must have been deceased for over three years. In either case, the effect of expungement is minimal. Those in need of an expungement are generally in need of employment, housing, education, or licensing and their criminal history is preventing them from advancing in their lives.
Solobay’s Bill Broadens Range of Expungement Eligibility
Senator Solobay’s bill is intended to broaden the range of eligibility for expungement to those people that will actually benefit from it. The bill would allow for individuals that were convicted of certain second and third degree misdemeanor offenses to expunge their convictions once they have met a respective ten or seven year waiting period. Eligibility would not extend to those that have been convicted of sex offenses, violent offenses, certain offenses for cruelty to animals, or those involving firearms. In addition, an individual is ineligible if they were convicted of an offense that is punishable by more than one year in prison.
Senator Solobay believes that if enacted, the bill would reduce recidivism rates by allowing those convicted of crimes to find employment, further their education, or purchase homes without their criminal history preventing them from doing so. Many individuals are barred from these opportunities, and as such return to a life of crime to make ends meet. The new bill will reduce the number of people that are hindered by their convictions by providing them the option of expungement. The bill will not only reduce recidivism rates, it will also reduce the amount of money that the state spends on incarcerated individuals.
Support For Pennsylvania Senate Bill 391
The bill is receiving wide support, and attorney Jenna Thorne believes that “Senate Bill 391 is a great step in the right direction for Pennsylvania. It will allow individuals who committed low-level offenses and have gone several years with no additional offenses to finally move forward with their lives. These former offenders have served their sentence and now deserve the fresh start they need when seeking employment or educational opportunities.” The bill is also receiving support by prosecutors that feel that once an offender has paid their debt to society, they should have the right to live a positive and productive lifestyle.
I think most people agree that this bill ought to pass into law. I’m hoping the Judiciary sooner than later commits to a unanimous vote, which would move the bill one step closer to actualization. So many people, with so many unique circumstances, have been denied opportunities because of misdemeanors and other low-level offenses serving as a roadblock to real progress. These individuals have paid their debts and now deserve a fighting chance to grow. Let them live their lives to the fullest! Now is the time.