The Slatest

Pennsylvania’s Landmark Clean Slate Law Goes Into Effect, Sealing About 30 Million Criminal Records

A woman walks past an FBI police car.
A woman walks past an FBI police car on March 22 in D.C.
Brendan Smialowski/Getty Images

The state of Pennsylvania will begin sealing about 30 million criminal records Friday as part of the state’s Clean Slate law, which was passed last year. The law, which Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf says is the first of its kind in the nation, is designed to help minimize the damage of old low-level criminal convictions for nonviolent crimes—convictions that can make it difficult for people to get jobs as well as access to housing and education. In order to make that happen, the state plans to systematically scrub the state court database of more than half the charges on the books by next year.

The Philadelphia Inquirer profiled Khalia Robinson as an example of the damage done by having a criminal record and what the law aims to correct:

It was late on Oct. 11, 2006, when Khalia Robinson, then six months pregnant, got a craving for Chinese food. The corner takeout was packed, full of hungry patrons, people hanging out, a guy selling bootleg CDs. As Robinson squeezed in, her giant belly knocked a pile of CDs from a windowsill. As she was stacking them up again, she looked up to see a police officer standing over her, telling her she was under arrest.

Almost a year later, Robinson finally beat the counterfeiting charges. But the criminal record it left behind was a stain that wouldn’t wash out, showing up whenever she tried to land a new job.

The new law won’t clean the slate of all crimes, but it will cover charges that did not result in convictions, summary judgements, nonviolent crimes committed a decade or more ago, as well as more recent minor misdemeanor offenses that resulted in less than two years in prison. Once sealed, the records will no longer appear in background checks used by most employers, landlords, and academic institutions. “But while the records will stay hidden from public view, they will remain visible to law enforcement agencies, employers who are required to consider records under federal law and those who use FBI background checks,” according to CNN.