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Pathways 2 Pardons Event Tuesday Offers Free Help With Clearing Criminal Records

Megan Harris
90.5 WESA
A program, called Pathways 2 Pardons, will take place the evening of Tuesday, Sept. 3, 2019, at the Hosanna House. It will kick off a statewide campaign to encourage more Pennsylvanians with criminal records to apply for pardons.

People with criminal backgrounds can get help clearing their records at an event in Wilkinsburg Tuesday evening.

Attendees at Pathways 2 Pardons can receive free background checks and talk with state troopers about whether to ask the governor for a pardon. Attorneys from Duquesne University’s Civil Rights Clinic are also set to help attendees explore the possibility of clearing their records through expungement.

“It just eliminates so much stress and confusion and things that are maybe intimidating when it comes to navigating through these legal systems,” event organizer Taili Thompson said.

Officials from PennDOT will also be at Tuesday’s program to explain how to pursue restoration of driving privileges that were suspended due to a past conviction. Representatives of the Allegheny County Clerk of Courts will tell attendees whether they still owe court fines or fees, which must be paid to eligible for a pardon.

State Reps. Ed Gainey and Jake Wheatley will host the event, at Wilkinsburg’s Hosanna House from 5:30 to 8 p.m., to kick off a statewide campaign to encourage Pennsylvanians to seek clemency.

The program comes as top state officials push to make the pardons process more efficient and accessible.

“We have the right climate in Pennsylvania for ... giving people a second chance,” Thompson said. “Your greatest chance of receiving a pardon is now with the individuals [who] are in office.”

The Pennsylvania Board of Pardons voted in March, shortly after new board chair Lt. Gov. John Fetterman was elected, to allow people to apply for pardons for free. Previously, application fees totaled more than $60. Fetterman has also said he wants the board to move the application process online.

Such efforts follow the passage of Pennsylvania’s Clean Slate Act in 2018. That law automatically hid the criminal records of millions of Pennsylvanians from public view, but it only applies to non-convictions, summary offenses and most nonviolent misdemeanors. More serious crimes do not qualify and instead must be pardoned before they can be cleared.

The secretary of the board of pardons, Brandon Flood, will speak at Tuesday’s event. Once incarcerated himself, Flood has been instrumental in streamlining the state's pardon process. The secretary has also called for automatic record expungement for those pardoned.

Thompson, who had the idea for the Pathways 2 Pardons event earlier this summer, said changes at the pardons board could have a significant impact on his life. He recently applied for a pardon for drug and firearms-related convictions in the 1990s and early 2000s. Although he now works as the community coordinator for the Allegheny County Health Department’s Office of Violence Prevention, Thompson said his record made it difficult to get a job.

Receiving a pardon would allow him "to be a human being, a person again, without that strike that’s in my record right now,” Thompson said.

Thompson will speak, along with five others who he said have sought pardons, at a news conference before the Pathways 2 Pardons program Tuesday. The other speakers will include business owners Lee Davis, Brian Smith, and Jamie Younger. Michael Bernarding of Amachi Pittsburgh, a nonprofit that provides mentoring to children of incarcerated parents, and community activist Teresa Minor Spencer will also participate.