Philadelphia Starbucks Arrest of 2 Black Men
Mass Incarceration

Clean Slate Act: Will It Give Second Chances to Minor Crime Offenders?

In America, people get arrested for minor offenses everyday. Is the Clean Slate Act the key to getting them second chances with “clean” records?

To be a great role model and dad is all Ronald Lewis wanted to be in life. However, more than a decade ago, Lewis was arrested when he warned his brother, who was selling drugs, that the cops were coming.

Less than a month later, he was caught when he foolishly tried to shoplift. Both were minor offenses.

Activist Topeka K. Sam, host of SiriusXM's Last Mile, Second Chances
Activist Topeka K. Sam, host of SiriusXM’s Last Mile, Second Chances. Image Source: Yahoo. Click here to read more. 

Minor Offender: The Story of Ronald Lewis

These cases ended with:

  • 2 misdemeanor convictions
  • Probation time that ended early
  • No jail time.

At the time, Ronald Lewis did not know that that one bad month was going to taunt him for years to come.

Nonetheless, Lewis took on responsibilities, family and greatly matured.  Due to his past criminal record, Lewis was denied numerous jobs that he quailed for:

So many doors have been shut in my face, I know what wood tastes like.

Philadelphia Starbucks Gives 2 Black Men Permanent Jail Records

So many others like Lewis have had occurrences with police that led to their arrests.  For example, Two African Americans were arrested and escorted out of a Philadelphia Starbucks.

Staff called the police to report that the men refused to leave. They hadn’t ordered anything and were reportedly waiting for a business associate to arrive.

However, as most of us knows, this is how business people conduct business at Starbucks!

Employees said the two men were trespassing and had refused to leave the restaurant. The arrest of the men will stay on their records for the rest of their lives, even if the charges are dropped.

Philadelphia Police Commissioner Richard Ross said the only way to get the charges removed from their records would be if they find a lawyer to file an expungement petition.

The process of getting a record expunged is long, tedious, time-consuming and expensive. 

Video: Starbucks 911 Call on 2 African American Men for Sitting Too Long

Listen to the video below. It’s a tape of the 911 call that led to the two African American men being arrested in Starbucks. Dispatch even had the nerve to send more backup. For what?

Some Statistics on Criminal Records in America

The Society for Human Resource Management states that nearly 9 in 10 employers say they perform criminal background checks on most job candidates, if not all of them.

One certain case study points out that 4 in 5 landlords use criminal background checks in rental screenings.

The Heart for American Progress renders that today, over 70 million Americans have some type of criminal record , the same number as have college diplomas.

A criminal conviction, even a very minor one, can create lifelong barriers to:

  • Employment
  • Housing
  • Public benefits
  • Bank loans
  • Education

These are the key ingredients to a stable life or upward mobility.

The Facts on Minor Convictions in America

Authorities have made more than a quarter of a billion arrests over the past two decades, the Federal Bureau of Investigations estimates. And modern technology makes these records more accessible than ever, in effect exacerbating the lifelong toll of even a minor conviction.

Some of the most minor offenses permanently affecting the lives of people include:

Even being falsely accused follows a person for life.

All of these minor offenses can tarnish someone’s name and reputation for all time; creating the chance for them to be overlooked out on jobs, housing and even. 

This can be a major drawback with nationwide outlook.

Clean Slate Act: What Is It About?

Enthusiastically, under the proposed law, Clean Slate Act, eligible misdemeanor records would be automatically sealed after the allotted waiting period.

If passed, this would be the first of its kind to not require applicants to go through the lengthy and resource-heavy process of applying for an expungement, thus giving these people a second-chance. 

Pennsylvania Pushes ‘Clean Slate Bill’: Reducing Recidivism with 2nd Chances

The Process of Getting Your Record Expunged

After filing an application, there is an average wait time of four months before a court hearing, says Sharon Dietrich, litigation director of Community Legal Services, a legal aid organization in Philadelphia.

In Pennsylvania is the cost of filing for an expungement is currently $132. It’s being debated whether indigent applicants can file for a fee waiver in this state. If not, this process will never work for low income people. 

Yet, in some states, the expungement fee is as high as $500. Advocates say this doesn’t actually generate much revenue for the states themselves. But it does put the relief out of reach for most people who need it.

Second Chance Legislation in Other States

If you’re a first-time offender convicted of a non-violent drug felony in Connecticut, for example, you can apply to have that record destroyed after five years.

But if you were caught in neighboring state Rhode Island, you have to wait 10 years to apply.

The most recent report published last month, showed a significant uptick in legislation passed: Since 2013, 40 states and Washington, D.C., have enacted new or expanded second chance legislation.

There is not a single state in America that has an ideal system for dealing with the consequences of a minor criminal convictions. But it seems promising that criminal justice reform is going happen. Second chances are looking strong for now.

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Merri Wong
Merri Wong has had an interest in law and social studies since her early days in life. She holds a bachelor’s degree in Paralegal Studies, and currently works as a freelance writer. Her writing portfolio includes numerous topics from reviews to relationships, from mental health to marriage. Merri currently helps report the news for Prison Rideshare Network.