Expungement in Pennsylvania explained

imagesPennsylvania has been active in recent years in expanding its judicial relief mechanisms, though it still has a long way to go to catch up to states like Kentucky, Missouri, and New Jersey, which have in the past 12 months extended their expungement laws to some felonies and/or reduced waiting periods.  No one has been more active and effective in the effort to increase the availability of “clean slate” judicial remedies than Sharon Dietrich, Litigation Director for Community Legal Services of Philadelphia.   Sharon has written a comprehensive guide to existing authorities on expungement and sealing in her state, which also discusses pending bills that would extend these laws.  The abstract follows:

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Can the pardon power be revived through procedural reforms?

Mark Osler has posted a new piece arguing for an overhaul of the federal pardon process so that it more closely resembles efficient and productive state clemency systems. He argues that flaws in the process for administering the power, rather than a failure of executive will, have prevented President Obama from carrying out his ambitious clemency agenda directed atlong-sentenced drug offenders.  Streamlining the process will enable presidents to use the power more generously and effectively.

This seems to us to an oversimplified solution to the theoretical and practical problems with what President Obama has been trying to do. Moreover, at least in the absence of constitutional amendment, any structural changes in the federal pardon process would have to be reaffirmed by each new president, and would likely be opposed by the Justice Department and Congress.

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“Racial profiling in hiring: A critique of new ban-the-box studies”

In June we covered two recent studies that concluded ban-the-box policies tend to decrease minority hiring because some employers use race as a proxy for criminal history.  In other words, in the absence of information about applicants’ criminal history, some employers assume that minority applicants have a record and exclude them on this assumption.  The result is that ban-the-box policies increase opportunities for whites with a criminal record but decrease them overall for minorities, and thus encourage unlawful discrimination.  Some observers, including one of the study authors, advocated for the repeal of ban-the-box policies based on those conclusions.  Last week, the National Employment Law Project (NELP) published a critique of those studies, pointing out that any adverse effect on racial minorities is ultimately the product of unlawful discrimination barred by Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964, not banning the box.  In NELP’s view, the solution is “a robust reform agenda that creates jobs for people with records and dismantles racism in the hiring process, not [rolling] back the clock on ban-the-box.”  We republish the summary and introduction of NELP’s critique below.  


 

Two recent studies claim that “ban the box” policies enacted around the country detrimentally affect the employment of young men of color who do not have a conviction record.  One of the authors has boldly argued that the policy should be abandoned outright because it “does more harm than good.” It’s the wrong conclusion.  The nation cannot afford to turn back the clock on a decade of reform that has created significant job opportunities for people with records.  These studies require exacting scrutiny to ensure that they are not irresponsibly seized upon at a critical time when the nation is being challenged to confront its painful legacy of structural discrimination and criminalization of people of color.

Our review of the studies leads us to these top-line conclusions: (1) The core problem raised by the studies is not ban-the-box but entrenched racism in the hiring process, which manifests as racial profiling of African Americans as “criminals.”  (2) Ban-the-box is working, both by increasing employment opportunities for people with records and by changing employer attitudes toward hiring people with records.  (3) When closely scrutinized, the new studies do not support the conclusion that ban-the-box policies are responsible for the depressed hiring of African Americans.  (4) The studies highlight the need for a more robust policy response to both boost job opportunities for people with records and tackle race discrimination in the hiring process—not a repeal of ban-the-box laws.

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“Prosecuting Collateral Consequences” is an important contribution

On Monday, the CCRC posted the abstract of an extensive new law review article, Prosecuting Collateral Consequences, 104 Georgetown L. J. 1197 (2016). The article, by a brand new University of North Carolina Law Professor, Elisha Jain, argues that new awareness of the collateral consequences of criminal conviction has extended the largely unreviewable discretion of public prosecutors into civil public policy decisions like deportation and licensing.

This should not be news to anyone who has followed the developing scholarship in the field, but it is a point worth making at some length. The article makes unmistakable a point that is only now emerging among many participants in the criminal justice system: that because the collateral consequences of conviction are often, particularly as to minor crimes, more important than the direct consequences of conviction, sophisticated defense lawyers, prosecutors, and judges will make negotiating about collateral consequences a central feature of the plea bargaining process.

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“Divergent moral vision” — Collateral consequences in Europe and the U.S.

A new article in the Stanford Law Review discusses the radically different forms of punishment in the United States and Europe, which its author attributes at least in part to differing moral visions of wrongdoing and wrongdoers.  In Two Cultures of Punishment, Joshua Kleinfeld argues that while Americans tend to regard serious offenders as “morally deformed people rather than ordinary people who have committed crimes,” European cultures “affirm even the worst offenders’ claims to social membership and rights.”

Kleinfeld illustrates this “divergent moral vision” by the very different approach European countries take to collateral consequences. (The other two areas discussed in the article are lengthy prison terms and capital punishment).  Whereas in this country people convicted of crime are subject to a lifetime of legal restrictions and social stigma analogous to older forms of civil death, and are effectively consigned to a kind of “internal exile,” in Europe people who have committed a crime benefit from numerous measures to encourage their reintegration.

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How prosecutors use collateral consequences

A new article published in the Georgetown Law Journal argues that collateral consequences are becoming a valuable tool for prosecutors in the plea bargaining process, enabling them to leverage their existing power to control the outcome of criminal cases.  In Prosecuting Collateral Consequences, Eisha Jain of the University of North Carolina law faculty attributes this trend to a new awareness of collateral consequences made possible by initiatives like the National Inventory of the Collateral Consequences of Conviction, which show that even minor convictions can trigger serious civil penalties.  She explains the “structural incentives” that offer prosecutors an opportunity to avoid or trigger important civil penalties, or to bargain for enhanced criminal penalties in exchange for circumventing a particularly unwelcome collateral consequence (like deportation or eviction).

Jain concludes that, for some prosecutors, “enforcing collateral consequences serves as an administratively efficient substitute for a criminal conviction” and a way to “promote their own policy preferences.”   In this fashion, prosecutors’ largely unreviewable discretion is extended to “an array of legal consequences, regulatory policies, and public interests.”

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Collateral consequences: punishment or regulation?

Have we been wrong in trying to fit the round peg of collateral consequences into the square hole of punishment?  Sandra Mayson, a Fellow at the Quattrone Center at the University of Pennsylvania Law School, says yes.  In an article published in the Notre Dame Law Review, Mayson challenges the view of some scholars that mandatory collateral consequences should be considered part of the court-imposed sentence, and thus potentially limited by procedural due process and ex post facto principles.  For starters, the Supreme Court has told us that dog won’t hunt.

But that doesn’t mean that collateral consequences should be immune from constitutional constraint. Mayson proposes instead to analyze collateral consequences as “preventive risk regulation” under principles developed in the administrative law context.  Specifically, she argues that a severe collateral consequence (such as sex offender registration) may be justified only if it can be shown to serve a public safety purpose in a particular case.

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Do ban-the-box policies increase racial discrimination in hiring?

Update: The National Employment Law Project has responded to these studies with a critique that we cover here.

Ban-the-box policies have become popular in recent years as a way of minimizing discrimination based on criminal history, and have been adopted by 24 states, the federal government, and a number private companies. But until recently there has been little hard data available about the general effect of those policies on employment opportunities.  A number of recent studies have begun to fill that gap, and the results have been disturbing. The consensus seems to be that while banning the box does enhance the employment prospects of those with criminal records, it also encourages employers to fall back on more general racial stereotypes about criminal history without the “box” to confirm or deny it.

Most recently, a multi-year field study by Amanda Agan (Princeton University) and Sonja Starr (University of Michigan Law School) found that although banning the box made it more likely that individuals with criminal records would receive call-backs from prospective employers, it dramatically increased the gap in call-backs between black and white applicants. Employer responses to over 15,000 fictitious job applications sent to New York and New Jersey employers after ban-the-box policies took effect showed that black applicants received 45% fewer callbacks than white applicants, up from a 7% differential before the new policy took effect:

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Study shows certificates work to create job opportunities

A new empirical study provides important evidence that “certificates of recovery/relief” can be effective in facilitating employment opportunities for people with a criminal record.  Two University of South Carolina criminologists have concluded that employers in Ohio are willing to look beyond the criminal histories of job applicants who have been issued a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE) from a state court. The study, which involved sending fictitious resumes to over 300 employers in the Columbus area, found that individuals with a felony drug conviction were more than three times as likely to receive a job interview or offer if they had received a CQE.

Although the study’s findings are described as preliminary, they fill an important gap in our knowledge of the effectiveness of Ohio’s CQE, and by inference of similar certificate schemes in other jurisdictions.  Such schemes have to date been justified on the basis of assumptions and anecdotal evidence, with little hard data to vouch for their potency.  The abstract follows:

Securing stable, quality employment is one of the most robust predictors of desistance from offending. Yet, obtaining gainful employment is difficult for ex-offenders due to the stigma of a criminal record. In recognition of employment-related barriers to re-entry, some state legislatures have created certificates of recovery/relief, which lift occupational licensing restrictions, limit employer liability for negligent hiring claims, and aim to ensure employment decisions about certificate-holders are made on a case-by-case basis. The present study presents the results of the first empirical test of the effectiveness of such certificates. Using an experimental correspondence design, fictitious applicants applied to entry-level jobs advertised in the Columbus metropolitan area using fabricated resumes with identical names, educational backgrounds, employment experience, and skills. Because the only differences between the resumes were the type of criminal record and the presence of a Certificate of Qualification for Employment (CQE), the results isolate the specific impacts of criminal records and certificates on employment opportunities. Results indicate that, for job seekers with a one-year-old felony drug conviction, having a certificate of recovery increases the likelihood of receiving an interview invitation or job offer more than threefold. Importantly, certificate-holders and their counterparts with clean criminal backgrounds were equally likely to receive an interview invitation or job offer.

 

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New York certificates of relief fall short in practice

New York’s venerable certificate of relief scheme, which aims to mitigate the adverse collateral effects of criminal conviction, has served as a blueprint for certificate laws recently adopted in many other states.  But are New York’s certificates actually effective at restoring rights and status? That is a question addressed in two new scholarly articles, both of which find that New York’s certificates are frequently inaccessible to their intended beneficiaries and misunderstood both by the officials tasked with issuing them and the employers and licensing boards that should be giving them effect.

Governor Cuomo recently directed reforms in the process for obtaining certificates in response to a report concluding that it has “historically been burdensome and slow.”  These articles should be useful in that effort.

Both articles use interviews and anecdotal evidence to shed light on how certificate schemes operate in practice, providing insight into how government officials (including judges and probation officers), employers and convicted individuals interact with the laws (or fail to) in the real world. The increasing popularity of such well-intentioned laws represents an encouraging shift in legislative attitudes about second chances; but, as the articles make clear, they are only as good as their real-world application, which is more limited and less effective than many suppose.

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