Organizers said a pardon is a powerful tool for a second chance in life.
YORK, Pa. — York County’s Pardon Project held its first legal clinic on Oct. 24 to help people with certain criminal convictions apply for pardons and expungements.
Dozens of people attended the clinic, where attorneys from the York County Bar Association and MidPenn Legal Services offered their services free of charge.
A criminal record can be a significant barrier to getting a job, renting an apartment, getting a loan and more.
“I couldn’t get some jobs,” said Tavon Parker, a York resident who received two non-violent convictions six years ago and is now speaking out on motivation. “What I do with the motivational speech, there are certain tips that disapprove of my story and my track record. To really be able to have something that still holds you back mentally and physically is something I’m looking forward to.”
Parker has learned he is eligible to seek a pardon, but the process is long. This involves collecting and submitting documents, being interviewed by a parole officer, speaking before the state pardons board, and finally having the governor sign the pardon.
In the meantime, Parker uses his experience to mentor others. The Advantage program exposes York Region youth to experiences in entrepreneurship, financial literacy, civic engagement, culinary arts, athletics and business principles.
“[Having to apply for a pardon] is part of the process that I hope our children don’t have to go through,” he said.
To guide participants through the process, the Pardon Project assigns each person a Pardon Fellow.
The first-ever Pardon Fellow, DeShawn Harrison, has said he wants to help others move on with their lives, even though he has his own felony convictions that cannot be pardoned for two years.
“If you get these crimes lifted, now you can go back to school, you can get better housing, jobs, loans,” Harrison said. “Whatever you decide to do crime-free, now you have a second chance to do it.”
Participants may be eligible for expungement or pardon. An expungement is usually used for charges or a trial that never resulted in a conviction, while a pardon is usually the only way to erase a crime from public records in Pennsylvania.
Criminal lawyers said many people don’t know what’s in their case, especially if the conviction took place many years ago.
“People just don’t understand the system, so most people don’t know what their case is,” York attorney Suzanne Smith said. “They don’t know if it was a summary, if it was a felony, if it was a misdemeanor, and so our lawyers tonight are helping people figure out what their case is and then sending them to an erase or grace direction. .”
Pardon Project leaders hope to continue to hold quarterly clinics, as well as expand clinics throughout York County.
To be eligible for the clinic, you must: live in York County and only face arrests or charges in York County, have no pending criminal charges, and not be on probation or on parole. For a pardon, all fines, fees, or restitutions must be paid in full or refunded.
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