Second Chances Text
Prison Reforms Recidivism in the US

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

The Clean Slate Bill gives non-violent, low-level offenders 2nd chances. It seals the past criminal records of those who have earned the right to start new lives without criminal records.

Legislation is moving forward with support for the new Clean Slate Bill. Pushed in Pennsylvania by Rep. Jordan Harris (D-PA), the bill gives non-violent, low-level criminals a new chance.

It seals the past criminal records of those who have earned the right to a fresh start and clean slate.

Second Chances Text
Image Source: Goodreads

Pennsylvania Leading the Push for Clean Slate Bill

Supported by many in Pennsylvania, including three Philadelphia Eagle players:

  • Torrey Smith
  • Malcolm Jenkins
  • Chris Long

Smith’s mother had a previous criminal record. As a result, she found employment ONLY with low-paying jobs. She worked 15 hour days to support her children. After receiving a pardon, she was able to get a position making six-figures.

Pennsylvania could be the first state to automatically seal misdemeanor records of ex-offenders. This would reduce the recidivism of ex-offenders drastically.

As Sen. Anthony Williams put it:

Nearly 3 million Pennsylvanians have a criminal record and adopting Clean Slate legislation will break down the barriers that prevent people with a record from landing a good job and help those people who serve their time and remain crime free get a real second chance at rebuilding their lives.

A police officer with folder arms in front of a juvenile delinquent in a barred cell.
Putting less focus on punishment over minor offenses gives young offenders a chance at turning their life around before it’s too late. Image Source: ThoughtCo.

Clean Slate Bill and Recidivism Reduction

Recidivism is relapsing into a life of crime after release from incarceration. It is used to measure the success of the US criminal justice system’s rehabilitation of inmates. That is after they are reintegrated into society.

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According to a report published by Marshall Project, it isn’t accurate. To measure the improvements in the justice system, desistance is better.

Recidivism doesn’t take variables into account when figuring ‘rates’ by which criminals re-offend. More than half the crimes committed in the United States are not reported to law enforcement. How does this affect rates?

Factors Ignored in Recidivism “Rates”

What about those ‘breaking the law’? They have higher instances of being in contact with law enforcement. This is based on the demographics of the area in which they live. The poor and people of color are often targeted for that. It puts them at the top of the recidivism heap.

Which populations are used when determining the rates?

Another factor of recidivism is the crime committed upon reentry. How can you figure in a serial killer, upon release, committed a lesser crime like theft? Or a repeat criminal prior to being incarcerated. They reduced the crime committed to one infraction. Recidivism doesn’t look at that either.

Clean Slate Bill Supports Desistance

We should be focusing on the programs to rehabilitate and support the paths back into society. Through desistance, we see a change in the processes of justice. We see the effects on those individuals who want to become law-abiding citizens.

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Desistance promotes positive outcomes. Factors to reduce criminal offenses include:

  • Maturity level increases as people age
  • Support systems through families, loved ones and law-abiding citizens
  • Not being identified by the crime committed
  • Sobriety
  • Being a part of a group and socializing
  • Education/employment training

Rehabilitation Should Be the Focus

The Clean Slate Bill is an exceptional start. It will give low-level ex-offenders a chance to not be identified by their crimes.

To measure reforms of the justice system, include programs that look at all factors. What can you produce in inmates? A system should track what we are doing right to rehabilitate. And most focus on what inmates have failed to do.

When the justice system focuses on rehabilitation, they don’t need to focus on where they failed.

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Heather Kay
Heather Kay is a NorCal native who bloomed later in life. After finishing her journalism degree, her adventures took her across the pond to travel around Europe. She hopes to settle there someday and write about food and cultures. No matter where she is, she looks for taco ingredients; it reminds her of her family and home. She is a writer with several blogs, published articles and is currently an editor for the Prison Rideshare Network.