Senate Bill 391, which received unanimous support in the Senate, would provide widespread benefits to the people of Pennsylvania. Twenty-one states, including conservative states like Utah, Indiana Oklahoma and Alabama, have expanded their expungement laws within the past five years. The public policy benefits of expungement are beyond dispute.
Tens of thousands of people in Pennsylvania have had their ability to achieve their potential negatively impacted by decade-old criminal records. These people are now no more likely to offend than any other citizen, yet they are being permanently mislabeled. The result is a tremendous waste of human capital and state resources. A large percentage of these former misdemeanants are very well educated, often at taxpayer expense, and are trained to perform important services, yet they are overlooked or passed over because they are mislabeled and unnecessarily appear risky. The consequences for Pennsylvania range from a less competitive work force to increased unemployment.
Expungement is more than just about saving money and maximizing resources, it is also about encouraging rehabilitation and treating people with dignity by recognizing that people make mistakes, people change, and some people deserve forgiveness, even from the state.
SB 391 strikes the right balance between both the public safety needs that criminal records serve, and the policy objectives of rewarding former misdemeanor offenders who are able to prove their rehabilitation to a judge. The fact that so many district attorneys support SB 391 is testament to the merits of this bill.
Pennsylvania’s current expungement law, which allows for summary offenses to be expunged after 5 years, has proven incredibly successful. It is time to expand expungement to those with non-violent misdemeanors who have been law abiding for more than 7 years.