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					NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD OF PHILADELPHIA                       1515 Cherry St. Suite NLG
CRIMINAL RECORDS EXPUNGEMENT PROJECT                         Philadelphia, PA 19102
                                                             Phone: 215-995-1230
                                City Council Testimony
                                    Criminal Records
                       Written testimony of Michael Lee, Esquire
            Supervising Attorney for National Lawyers Guild of Philadelphia
                        Criminal Records Expungement Project
                                    February 22, 2011

The following testimony is submitted by the National Lawyers Guild of Philadelphia
Criminal Records Expungement Project (“NLGEC”). I thank you for the opportunity to
present this testimony on behalf of our clients, those most affected by the use of criminal
records and the benefits of expungements.

In this testimony, I will address the NLGEC and the effects of an arrest record.

Criminal and arrest records pose an almost impassable barrier to securing employment,
housing, and public benefits for tens of thousands of Philadelphians, especially among
the City’s poor, African American, and Latino populations. Because criminal background
checks have become a routine part of the application process, an applicant with a criminal
record may find it impossible to obtain meaningful employment, housing, and public
benefits. Many companies have hiring policies that exclude not only serious violent
offenders, but people with any criminal past, even those with arrests that never led to
convictions. Although these blanket policies are often unlawful with respect to
convictions and are always unlawful in Pennsylvania with respect to arrests, employers
continue to use them to exclude many residents of this City from gainful employment.

The NLGEC is committed to lowering barriers to employment, housing, military service,
and public benefits caused by criminal records. Through public education, direct
representation, and advocacy work we aim to remove a significant obstacle for those
most vulnerable to the effects of the stigma imposed by a criminal record.


The NLGEC is a free direct legal service program whereby volunteer attorneys and law
students assist those with criminal and/or arrest records prepare expungement petitions to
clear their criminal record. The NLGEC handles expungement cases through all stages of
the expungement process, including advising clients, preparing and filing expungement
petitions, and representing clients before the Court of Common Pleas of Philadelphia.
Further, the NLGEC educates the public and the legal community on the expungement
process and advocates for criminal record policy reform. Among the tools that we use to
advocate on behalf criminal record policy reform include appeals work, legislative
advocacy, and public outreach campaigns.

The NLGEC conducts monthly intake at the People’s Emergency Center in West Philly
and at Hope Outreach Ministries in Kensington. Since November, the NLGEC has held

NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD OF PHILADELPHIA                       1515 Cherry St. Suite NLG
CRIMINAL RECORDS EXPUNGEMENT PROJECT                         Philadelphia, PA 19102
                                                             Phone: 215-995-1230
eight clinic intakes at these locations and one clinic intake at Enon Baptist Church in East
Mt. Airy. The NLGEC understands that a person is much more than an arrest record.
Accordingly, our clinic seeks to go beyond a person’s record to see what motivates them
for seeking an expungement, how an expungement can improve their life, and how they
can serve the community to help others affected by this crisis. To date, we have received
applications from two hundred forty-eight (248) people. Of the 248 received
applications, one hundred thirty-seven (137) or 55% were accepted into the clinic. 44%
of the received applications believe that having an arrest record hinders their ability to
find a job. From our pool of 137 accepted clients, 48% are unemployed, and 13% are
employed part time. I am proud to announce that tomorrow we will file sixty-seven
petitions at a filing cost of one thousand and five dollars ($1,005).

The NLGEC is designed to accomplish two goals; first to reduce barriers to meaningful
employment, housing, government benefits, and quality of life, and second to assist those
most affected by the illegal use of criminal record to advocate for change. An
expungement order instructs the arresting agency to destroy or deliver to defendant all
criminal records, fingerprints, photographic plates and photographs pertaining to
specified charges, which resulted from the arrest. Moreover, the Pennsylvania State
Police are to request that the Federal Bureau of Investigation return to them all records
pertaining to said arrest, to be destroyed by the State Police agency upon their receipt.
Lastly, the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts is required to remove the arrest
record from the CPCMS computer indexes. Expungements only remove noncoviction
data. If an individual’s arrest led to conviction data such as incarceration, probation or
parole, then the individual must first obtain a pardon prior to seeking an expungement.


In the current legal market, the starting price for an expungement is seven hundred and
fifty dollars ($750). This puts this vital legal service outside of the economic reality of
those most affected by criminal records. The NLGEC has a small-dedicated team of
volunteers operating with a limited budget. An expungement petition costs fifteen dollars
($15) to file, which expunges only the arrest record of a particular offense. We have a
client with an eleven page criminal record and not a single conviction. To expunge this
client’s record will cost over one hundred and twenty dollars ($120), but his criminal
record will go from eleven pages to zero. He will no longer have to check the box asking
if he has ever been arrested for a crime. This client believes the length of his record and
checking the box are hindering his ability to find meaningful employment. Simply put,
NLGEC cannot afford to do this alone.

An area where the use of criminal records has a devastating impact is in preventing
employment. We have many clients that come to us looking for a meaningful job,
seeking to improve their life, and being rejected for jobs despite having the desired

NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD OF PHILADELPHIA                        1515 Cherry St. Suite NLG
CRIMINAL RECORDS EXPUNGEMENT PROJECT                          Philadelphia, PA 19102
                                                              Phone: 215-995-1230
qualifications. Not only does the criminal record deny employment opportunities, but
also disenfranchises people, which adds to a sense hopelessness. A criminal record is an
onerous albatross that is impacting the guilty and innocent alike. NLGEC is committed
to engaging those most affected by an issue, and helping them advocate for the relief and
quality of life they see fit. Accordingly, NLGEC believes that expungements serve as a
positive contact with the government and the criminal justice system. This positive
contact of having the court affirm and protect an individual’s rights is not experienced
often in the communities we partner with.

I have a client that has been in the child care industry for over twenty-five years. Her
lifelong dream is to own and operate her own day care center, and she is one class credit
away from achieving her dream. The remaining class is an internship at a current day
care center. She got accepted at the center where she has worked for over 25 years. The
expungement was for charges for an arrest that took place in 2005 when she stopped two
girls from beating up her daughter. The police arrested her and charged her with
aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, and terroristic
threats. She wanted the expungement because she was innocent. The Judge granted her
expungement, however, just before she began her internship, she met with the director of
the program. He informed her that because of her arrest record, she could not be placed
in a day care center; therefore, she could not complete the required class to graduate.
Her record is now clear, but she is still not in her class.

There are already legal restrictions in place regarding the use of criminal record
information. Why are we allowing people's arrest records to get in the way of being hired
when the State has made the decision as to many of the important factors? Employers
can and do add some additional factors when hiring, but they have gone crazy and
basically have "no record" policies in place. Under the system’s current design, an
individual’s record will show up forever and more importantly penalize them forever.
We should acknowledge that someone who committed a crime did something wrong, but
we should also allow them to show rehabilitation through a job history, schooling, Drug
and Alcohol counseling, years without criminal conviction, etc. Right now, with criminal
questions right up front, it is not clear why people are getting denied employment and
housing opportunities, but you can be fairly certain that the criminal record is a a relevant

Ban the box would push the criminal decision to the end of the process where it is
transparent. Employers can still use criminal records to make some decisions, but it
becomes obvious when they do so allowing people to exercise their rights. Title VII of
the CRA of 1964 and the PHRA require that you look at evidence of rehabilitation but
anecdotal evidence suggests that rarely do employers do this. The NLGEC and the
communities we serve recognize that being arrested is a life sentence with dire
consequences under current law. With 80% of our clients expressing willingness to
advocate and organize around the use of criminal records, we look forward to working

NATIONAL LAWYERS GUILD OF PHILADELPHIA                    1515 Cherry St. Suite NLG
CRIMINAL RECORDS EXPUNGEMENT PROJECT                      Philadelphia, PA 19102
                                                          Phone: 215-995-1230
with City Council to bringing about immediate changes in that bears the burden of
expunging nonconviction data, and how criminal records may be used.