Ryan Hancock, an Assistant Chief Counsel with the Pennsylvania Human Relations Commission, the Commonwealth’s civil rights agency, and co-founder of the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity’s Criminal Record Expungement Project (C-REP), published an article discussing criminal records issues in Pennsylvania in Penn Law’s Journal of Law & Social Change. In his article, The Double Bind: Obstacles to Employment and Resources for Survivors of the Criminal Justice System, 15 U. Pa. J.L. & Soc. Change 515 (2011-2012), Mr. Hancock highlights the barriers that individuals face in obtaining employment, housing, public benefits, and immigration status after coming into contact with the criminal justice system, even if an arrest did not lead to a conviction.
Technology has made criminal background checks part of most pre-employment screening. And although an employer in Pennsylvania may not use non-conviction matters in hiring decisions, blanket criminal history inquiries have the effect of excluding those with non-conviction records from employment. There is a disproportionate impact on Black and Hispanic communities in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity’s Criminal Record Expungement Project (C-REP) files expungement and redaction petitions in Philadelphia on behalf of low-income individuals to work to overcome these systemic barriers. Mr. Hancock’s article seeks to provide a framework of criminal history record information issues. Utilizing Pennsylvania’s expungement law is a step in the right direction, however, broader policy change is needed to create meaningful change. For example: “Non-conviction data should be automatically removed from a criminal record upon disposition and after the exhaustion of the appeal period. In the alternative, because it is unlawful in Pennsylvania to use non-conviction data for employment purposes, non-conviction data should not be made available to non-criminal justice agencies, commercial criminal background screening companies, or the public.” Additionally, there should be an automatic removal of data from repositories after an individual has been “crime free” for a period of time. Moreover, legislative analysis is needed to determine whether existing statutes that limit individuals’ access to employment, housing, and public benefits unnecessarily impose severe consequences on individuals not posing a safety risk.