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Starting May 21, a series of clinics will seek to help formerly incarcerated Philadelphians find economic opportunities. Photo Courtesy of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.
Starting May 21, a series of clinics will seek to help formerly incarcerated Philadelphians find economic opportunities. Photo Courtesy of United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey.

Philadelphia is set for its largest citywide record clearing initiative

The initiative is the product of a partnership between The Promise and UWGPSNJ, featuring 30 record-clearing clinics beginning May 21.

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In December 2021, The Promise and the City of Philadelphia announced a partnership called the Jobs & Opportunity Challenge, a new initiative focused on criminal record sealing and employment access.

The goal of the initiative is to combat poverty by removing barriers to employment — a direct response to the more than 350,000 Philadelphians with arrest and conviction records.

The Promise, the public-private anti-poverty coalition powered by United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey (UWGPSNJ), has announced the next step of the Jobs & Opportunity College: the launch of 30 record-clearing clinics in 30 weeks, and the grantees who will host them.

“The Promise is focused on removing barriers in order to secure and stabilize lives and grow income,” Michael Banks, executive director of The Promise, said in a press release. “Clearing past convictions creates opportunities in the workforce, which in turn helps break the cycle of economic hardship holding so many Philadelphians back.”

The number of Philadelphians with arrest and conviction records signifies a widespread economic issue for the entire region. It is also a key drive of racial and economic inequity. 

While Black Americans make up 12.6% of the general population, they constitute 27% of all arrests. Furthermore, Black Americans with a conviction are 50% less likely to get an employment offer. 

Overall, formerly incarcerated people face an unemployment rate that is five times higher than average. Beyond just employment, convictions create barriers to education, housing, financial opportunities, professional licensing and many more. 

"It's clear there's a problem and we must step up to fix it," said Bill Golderer, president & CEO of UWGPSNJ. 

The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that convictions cost lost wages in excess of $372 billion and cost the United States economy about $87 billion in lost GDP.

“With clinics held across the city, The Jobs and Opportunity Challenge will help Philadelphians conveniently access legal assistance to start this process and start moving their lives forward,” noted Banks. 

The Promise gave grants to 18 nonprofit organizations that applied to host record-clearing clinics in their respective communities around Philadelphia.

The grantees are: 

  • African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA) serves African and Caribbean immigrants, refugees and families with social and legal services and more.
  • Beyond Literacy expands opportunities and improves lives by unleashing the power of literacy through free, high-quality education.
  • CEIBA promotes the economic development and financial inclusion of the Latino community with access to quality housing.
  • Community College of Philadelphia Foundation provides resources to enhance and enrich the educational experiences of and professional opportunities for its students. 
  • Community of Compassion CDC offers a wide array of programs that improve quality of life, promote community development, and empower individuals to reach their potential. 
  • Eastern North Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp assists approximately 18,000 jobseekers annually with job training, job search, and other services.
  • The Elevation Project serves both formerly incarcerated and at-risk individuals with an array of services to empower new beginnings and open new opportunities.
  • EMIR Healing Center serves the families of homicide victims in Philadelphia through victims’ advocacy and support, utilizing a trauma-informed approach to care.
  • Institute for Community Justice, part of Philadelphia FIGHT, is a comprehensive prison service and reentry program providing health linkages, supportive services, education, and advocacy.
  • JEVS Human Services provides skills development, job readiness, career services, vocational rehabilitation and other services.
  • New Kensington Community Development Corporation advances social equity and economic empowerment by creating opportunities for residents to shape their neighborhoods.
  • NoMo (New Options More Opportunities) Foundation provides a safe space for children and families to develop life skills and nurture their potential so they can break the cycle of poverty. 
  • Philadelphia Bail Fund, eliminating money bail in Philadelphia and providing bail assistance for those who are indigent and cannot afford bail.
  • The Reawakening Agency supports people in a transitional phase of life after incarceration and/or homelessness through empowering services and resources.
  • Revolutionary Vision CSC offers services and programs to address nutrition and food access, re-education, and financial empowerment through job readiness training.
  • Southwest Community Development Corporation improves quality of life for people in Southwest Philadelphia by promoting economic development and opportunity.
  • Uplift Solutions delivers entrepreneurial solutions to support underserved communities and improve outcomes for justice-involved individuals in the greater Philadelphia area. 
  • Urban League of Philadelphia, an affiliate of the National Urban League, empowers underserved communities to ensure economic self-reliance, parity, power, and civil rights. 

The first clinic will take place, Saturday, May 21, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1212 S. Broad Street, and will be hosted by NoMo Foundation. It is part of a small pilot phase that will run through June.

In each clinic, the legal service partner will perform an intake and walk the participant through their public record, while providing a high-level view of services needed to clear a record. Within 30 days, and once attorneys have reviewed the person’s record in full,  the legal service partner will follow up to offer services the person is eligible for, which may include filing for expungement and/or applying for a pardon, as well as in-house counsel representation where applicable.

“The Jobs & Opportunity initiative builds on work all three legal organizations [Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, Community Legal Services, and Defender Association of Philadelphia] have been doing but scales it up to reach many more people with the potential to create a much bigger, game-changing impact,” noted Taylor Pacheco, deputy executive director of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity.

The full list of clinics can be found on The Promise website

In addition to the record-clearing clinics, The Promise is also launching a public awareness campaign to encourage individuals with a past conviction to take advantage of the clinics’ free legal counseling, and inform the general public about the impact past convictions have on individuals, families and the local economy. 

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