I am to deliver a lecture in Philadelphia on April 2nd. It is hosted by the Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PULSE) a wonderful group that advocates in many ways — one of the most impressive is with the pro bono Criminal Record Expungement Project (CREP). I’d like to introduce their work very briefly here.
Last time I was in Philly, I sat in on an expungement clinic. On that day, Ryan Hancock, civil rights lawyer and co-founder of PULSE, estimated they filed approximately 1,000 dockets to the courts to begin the expungement process for clients — that equates to approximately $100,000 in legal services. Done for free. In just three hours!
CREP clinics usually occur on Saturdays and are manned by banks of law grad students from a number of Philadelphia universities. Over the course of eight clinics, Hancock estimates PULSE has delivered nearly a million dollars of legal services.
THE NEED AND THE SYSTEM
A rap sheet includes non-convictions as well as convictions. One’s right to have non-convictions expunged from a record is statute protected but not by definition a constitutional right. Rules differ state-to-state.
Non-convictions included in databases perpetually hamper citizens from gaining employment and state services. Expungement should be a relatively straight forward filing but it can be expensive ($1,000+ legal fees per filing) and it is timely and bureaucratic with dockets moving very slow.
CREP challenges this in their very procedures. CREP has written and adopted a software program that generates the dockets automatically cutting out hours — even days — of labour. This means they can help a greater number of people in a shorter amount of time and it also means they are testing the system by which the dockets are filed.
By flooding the system, legally, with filings to which we all have legal right, CREP is testing Pennsylvania’s criminal expungement procedures. They monitor the progression of paperwork and identify bottlenecks in the system. The system will either break or it will adapt and achieve efficiency. Such a clever strategy.
For many of the CREP clients, the expungement process is the first time in their lives they can ask a judge to meet their statute protected rights. For many, they’ve experienced a legal system in which they have little to no agency and so for a majority the expungement process is the first time they ask a court of law to serve their needs.
Oh, and by the way, criminal record expungement helps all of society too.
Come say high! It’s a the Friends Center on 1501 Cherry Street, Philadelphia in the MLK Room from 6-8pm.