In June, Pennsylvania governor Tom Wolf signed HB 1419—a “clean slate” law—which automatically seals the records of formerly incarcerated people with convictions for nonviolent misdemeanors after they have completed their sentence and 10 years has elapsed without an additional conviction, and allows others with criminal records petition to seal some records.Pennsylvania HB 1419 (2018); and “Governor Wolf Signs Clean Slate Bill, Calls for More Criminal Justice Reform,” Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, June 28, 2018. The law had overwhelming bipartisan support, passing the House 188–2 and the Senate unanimously.J. D. Prose, “Pennsylvania Becomes First State with ‘Clean Slate’ Law for Nonviolent Criminal Records,” Beaver County Times, June 28, 2018.
The law’s mechanism for maintaining a database and automatically sealing certain categories of records makes it the first of its kind, drawing praise from the Center for American Progress as well as Democratic legislators who hope to make it a model for national reform.J. D. Prose, “Pennsylvania Becomes First State with ‘Clean Slate’ Law for Nonviolent Criminal Records,” Beaver County Times, June 28, 2018.
It’s welcome news in Pennsylvania, which has among the highest rates of probation and parole in the country, as well as the highest incarceration rate in the Northeast.Vincent Schiraldi, “The Pennsylvania Community Corrections Story,” Columbia University Justice Lab, April 25, 2018.
Wolf has called for even more criminal justice reform, and State Representative Ed Gainey, who said that while the bill “should be celebrated,” he believes that “someone who’s served their time and been a model citizen for, say, five years, should have their records automatically expunged.”“Governor Wolf Signs Clean Slate Bill, Calls for More Criminal Justice Reform,” Pennsylvania Legal Aid Network, June 28, 2018; and Christian Morrow, “‘Clean Slate’ Legislation Becomes Law in Pennsylvania,” Pittsburgh Courier, July 5, 2018.
While many states, such as New Jersey, use 10 years as a benchmark for sealing records, others, such as Nevada and Washington, have much shorter waiting periods for some categories of conviction.For an overview of expungement and sealing laws nationwide, see Collateral Consequences Resource Center, “50-State Comparison: Judicial Expungement, Sealing, and Set-aside,” December 2018.
Massachusetts also addressed the sealing of records in its Criminal Justice Reform Act of 2018, accelerating sealing availability from 10 years to seven years for felonies and from five years to three years for misdemeanors, and allowing for expungement of some cases involving people under 21 at the time of conviction.Massachusetts SB 2371 (2018), §§ 1001(a)(2) & 1001(a)(3).
While Pennsylvania and Massachusetts were among the most notable reformers, legislatures nationwide took action: 19 states enacted 27 statutes relevant to sealing and expungement.Love and Schlussel, Reducing Barriers to Reintegration, 2019, 9. Eight of those states (California, Florida, Louisiana, Maryland, Nebraska, South Dakota, Vermont, and Utah) added laws expanding the rights of people who have been arrested but not convicted to have their arrest records sealed or expunged.Love and Schlussel, Reducing Barriers to Reintegration, 2019, 9.,10. And three, Nebraska, Ohio, and Tennessee, authorized or expanded laws allowing people who have been convicted as a result of being victims of sex trafficking to have those records sealed or expunged.Love and Schlussel, Reducing Barriers to Reintegration, 2019, 9.,10.