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PHILADELPHIA LAWYERS FOR SOCIAL EQUITY

People Change. Records Can Too.

aka Criminal Records Expungement Project; Pardon Project   |   Philadelphia, PA   |  http://plsephilly.org/

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Mission

PLSE seeks a more equitable social environment for those with criminal records through individual representation, strategic litigation, community education, research and advocacy. PLSE does this by seeking expungements in criminal court and pardons from the Governor; educating elected and community leaders; empowering and organizing under-resourced communities; and leading legislative, administrative and systemic reform.

Notes from the nonprofit

Anyone who has seen the Netflix video "13th" (about the 13th Amendment to the US Constitution) realizes that the criminal justice system has been less than just. Allowing those who have completed their sentences - regardless of the justice of the conviction - to erase from their public records the stain of their conviction, so that they can seek to achieve the quality of life for themselves and their families, is in everyone's interest. Pennsylvania is leading the national effort to reform the pardon laws and procedures. We need help in getting the word out to those once justice-involved that pardons are not just for privileged, rich, white men, but for everyone, especially for those who have for so long borne the brunt of the unequal application of the laws.

Ruling year info

2012

Interim Executive Director

Lisa Campbell

Main address

230 S. Broad Street Suite 1102

Philadelphia, PA 19102 USA

Show more contact info

EIN

45-2980014

NTEE code info

Civil Rights, Advocacy for Specific Groups (R20)

IRS filing requirement

This organization is required to file an IRS Form 990 or 990-EZ.

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Communication

Programs and results

What we aim to solve

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Pennsylvania has the third highest number of people in prison, on probation or parole, or with criminal records. it is undeniable that criminal records are a major factor in keeping people in poverty. It is estimated that over 25% of Philadelphians have criminal records - that percentage is far higher among PLSE's clients: low-income, under-resourced communities and people of color. Criminal records are regularly used to deny people jobs, professional licenses, housing, government benefits, entrance into academic, training and apprenticeship programs, and other essential opportunities for which they are qualified. Non-conviction data can be erased only by a judge's "expungement" order. Decades-old convictions (95% plea-bargained) can be erased only through a governor's pardon. These pathways are expensive, time-consuming, complicated and overwhelming to people with an average education. This is best understood as a public health crisis.

Our programs

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

What are the organization's current programs, how do they measure success, and who do the programs serve?

Criminal Record Expugements

It is estimated that over 25% of Philadelphians have criminal records. Freely accessible to the public over the internet but written with words few non-lawyers understand, criminal records containing non-conviction and low level conviction histories are frequently, and often illegally, used to deny people jobs, professional licenses, housing, government benefits, and other crucial opportunities for which they would otherwise qualify, cutting them off from the better lives they could achieve for themselves and their families. A criminal record can be "expunged” (erased as if it never happened) or "sealed” (hidden from public view but still available to state police and prosecutors) only by judicial order. PLSE files and prosecutes more petitions – over 2,000 per year – than any other organization in the country, with a success rate exceeding 98%.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Victims and oppressed people

With few exceptions, the only way to remove actual convictions from a criminal record is by a Governors pardon. Since 2018, PLSE has been leading statewide efforts to reform the pardon process. Today (2024), the process is free, does not require an attorney, and results in over 66% of the applicants receiving a pardon from the Governor. Working with District Attorneys, Judges, Community Action Agencies, Recovery and Reentry Communities, bar associations, health providers, social workers, and communities of faith, PLSE is creating "Pardon Hubs" throughout Philadelphia and county-wide "Pardon Projects" across the state, where people with criminal records can receive free help completing the forms from a "Pardon Coach" whom PLSE has trained: www.PardonMePA.org. The number of applicants has surged, from just over 430 in 2017 to over 2173 in 2023.

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Victims and oppressed people

Each year, PLSE informs over 2500 Philadelphians of their rights regarding criminal history records, and leads or participates in approximately 80 presentations to employers, community groups, professional associations, clergy, business leaders, elected officials and lawyers, including CLE programs. Through its Pardon Project Steering Committee -- comprised solely of people with lived experience in the criminal justice system and their families -- it is connecting with impacted people all across the state and building a statewide voice for systemic change in how the Commonwealth - by contracts, regulations, laws and language - has oppressed people who have committed crimes, successfully completed their sentences and deserve the second chance that our system of justice promises. Pardons release potential, and are best understood as no-cost workforce development and community investment policies (as per a 2020 report of The Economy League "The Economic Impact of Pardons").

Population(s) Served
Economically disadvantaged people
Victims and oppressed people

Where we work

Awards

Barra Award for innovation and excellence 2017

Barra Foundation

Outstanding Organization Community Service Award. 2023

Barristers Association

Excellence Award, Community Advocacy 2023

PA Legal Aid Network

Paul J. Hoh Life Improvement Award 2023

Bucks County Pretrial Services

Reentry Organization of the Year 2022

Phila Reentry Coalition

Our Sustainable Development Goals

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn more about Sustainable Development Goals.

Goals & Strategy

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Learn about the organization's key goals, strategies, capabilities, and progress.

Charting impact

Four powerful questions that require reflection about what really matters - results.

Broadly stated, PLSE strives to change the narrative of criminal records, from a permanent stain and prejudicial character predictor to a time- and place-specific event from which to measure the individual's success. PLSE seeks to create a society that understands how criminal records permanently punish individuals and families, subjecting them to never-ending collateral consequences, increases the likelihood of recidivism, and keeps whole communities in poverty. It is in our society's self interest to have individuals contribute to their highest and best ability.

PLSE has successfully changed the systems by which the criminal court processes criminal record expungement petitions by poor people in Philadelphia – now granting thousands each year instead of hundreds. Using the same strategies of community engagement, administrative collaboration and legal advocacy, we have now fundamentally changed the statewide pardon system. Now our goal is to mobilize and organize communities to help their members obtain pardons and start fresh.

PLSE aims to change (1) how society views criminal arrests and convictions: from a mark of moral defectiveness to a milepost from which to measure the distance traveled, and from an issue faced by individuals to a public health crisis; and (2) how society views pardons: from “grace” bestowed only upon those who are certain never to commit another offense, to a pathway for everyone who has paid their debt to society, has changed and now deserves a second chance to take advantage of opportunities for which they are qualified.

These changes might be achieved from the top down – and our Governor and Lt. Governor are doing their best. In fact, PLSE has worked cooperatively and collegially with the Lt Governor and the PA Board of Pardons since 2017. Together, we have accomplished great things, including:

o The process is now free for applicants and the form is available on the internet
o The form has been reduced from 9 pages to 5, and is much easier to understand
o Submission of two official reports (from the State Police and from PennDOT) are no longer required
o Digitization is underway, with electronic filing expected to beginNovember 2021
o The time from filing to hearing has been cut from 4 years to 2
o The Board has adopted its first-ever expedited review program, where hearings on certain offenses will be held within 1 year, and more such programs are expected
o The Board has doubled the number of applications it hears each session, and held more hearings in 2020 than ever before

But each Board member serves a limited term, and when one leaves, the whole trajectory can change. Permanent change can only come from society as a whole, and it can be led by the communities that are hardest hit by the damage caused by criminal records. Beginning in 2019, we have been partnering with social service agencies, public health centers, CDCs, communities of faith and other trusted service agencies and non-profits in low-income/high-arrest neighborhoods to bring knowledge and power to their communities. Utilizing a "train the trainer" approach, we have equipped staff and volunteers at over 60 organizations in 12 different Philadelphia neighborhoods and 8 other cities in PA to answer high-level questions about the pardon application and process, and created an online library of videos, flyers and other self-help materials.

Though our Pardon Project, PLSE is offering a vision of pardons – not yet existing in any state at this time – as a program by which communities and the government can work together to begin to undo and repair the wrongs and inter-generational harms inflicted by "tough on crime" policies and resultant mass incarceration. This holds the promise that pardons may actually take their rightful place as part of a justice system that provides hope and promotes social equity.

Over its 8 years, with a very small paid staff (1-2 attorneys, paralegal, a social worker and a part-time outreach coordinator) and increasing numbers of volunteers, PLS has helped several thousand individual clients and their families, and has achieved credibility and respect within the under-resourced, low income communities it serves as well as within the Philadelphia criminal justice system and statewide legal profession.

PLSE's informed, efficient and effective approach to advocacy and law reform has earned it the respect of judges, court administrators and staff, and prosecutors, who view PLSE not simply as good advocates for its clients, but as partners in the common effort to make our judicial system more just, more efficient and more accessible to our communities and citizenry.

PLSE's successes have generated interest among foundations, philanthropists and leading members of the community who have gained increasing awareness of the powerful hold that criminal records histories have on the economic development and financial stability of families and neighborhoods. As a result, PLSE is attracting new donors, partners and volunteers, who have enabled PLSE to develop statewide networks as well as expand into new areas of service (training community partners, and pardons). Expansions in service occur as PLSE gains the financial resources beyond what it needs to properly serve the growing demand for its current services. PLSE's very diverse Board has grown in size, depth and talents, reflect its growing role in the community and hte need to develop greater resources.

PLSE has been working with individual lawyers, law firms (paralegals and supervising attorneys) and law schools (students and faculty supervisors) to staff intake sessions, interview clients, explain the law, and generate the thousands of expungement petitions PLSE reviews and prosecutes each year. This is more than simply efficient production: it exposes influencers outside the criminal justice system, as well as the next generation of lawyers, to the people whose lives are being hard hit by the criminal law long after their interactions with the police and the justice system have ended. The volunteer experience demonstrates, in a very personal way, the reach of the law and the power of individuals to help others achieve dramatic improvements in their lives. For the students, it is life-changing, permanently affecting how they understand their power as lawyers and choose to utilize it to advance social equity. These volunteers are also, increasingly, becoming PLSE's financial donors.

Before Covid-19, the vast majority of PLSE’s work was conducted face-to-face. All that stopped in March 2020. Today, we have completed a total conversion to online/virtual. This began with our website, which was redesigned so that it was easy for clients to navigate; we created YouTube-style videos on almost every aspect of our work; we moved all of our trainings to zoom; we enabled on-line intake; and by the end of the summer (early FY2021), we were providing community education programs and conducting 1:1 on-line office hours. As a result, we are today reaching far more people and neighborhoods, and enlisting community partners more quickly.

That said, a very high percentage of the people who need our services do not have reliable access to high-speed internet and/or have limited service on their cell phones. Accordingly, we have developed models that will allow us to return to being physically present in low-income communities. In January 2021, we will expand our law school partners from 2 (Penn and Drexel) to 3 (Temple), as we begin to offer criminal records clinics in North Philadelphia.

Our Pardon Project Steering Committee is comprised of 12 client-eligible community representatives each of whom has been justice involved, and several of whom have received pardons. In 2020, three of its leaders went through a leadership development program. In December 2020, the Committee delivered to PA Governor Wolf a petition signed by over 3000 people calling on him to give higher priority to signing pardon applications.

In 2020 PLSE issued a pathbreaking report on the recidivism of pardon applicants (2008-2018), demonstrating that there was no "publci sfety risk" posed by pardons; and in January 2021, PLSE will issue the first ever audit of those in PA prisons serving life sentences for second-degree murder (meaning, that they were involved in a felony in some way during which someone died), which will include recommendations to the Board, Governor, and state legislature on how to assess eligibility for commutations of their sentences - saving over $45,000 per year per inmage without any public safety risk.

How we listen

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

Seeking feedback from people served makes programs more responsive and effective. Here’s how this organization is listening.

done We demonstrated a willingness to learn more by reviewing resources about feedback practice.
done We shared information about our current feedback practices.
  • How is your organization using feedback from the people you serve?

    To identify bright spots and enhance positive service experiences, To inform the development of new programs/projects, To strengthen relationships with the people we serve, To understand people's needs and how we can help them achieve their goals

  • Which of the following feedback practices does your organization routinely carry out?

  • What challenges does the organization face when collecting feedback?

    It is difficult to get the people we serve to respond to requests for feedback, We don’t have the right technology to collect and aggregate feedback efficiently

Financials

PHILADELPHIA LAWYERS FOR SOCIAL EQUITY
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Operations

The people, governance practices, and partners that make the organization tick.

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Connect with nonprofit leaders

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lock

Connect with nonprofit leaders

Subscribe

Build relationships with key people who manage and lead nonprofit organizations with GuideStar Pro. Try a low commitment monthly plan today.

  • Analyze a variety of pre-calculated financial metrics
  • Access beautifully interactive analysis and comparison tools
  • Compare nonprofit financials to similar organizations

Want to see how you can enhance your nonprofit research and unlock more insights? Learn More about GuideStar Pro.

PHILADELPHIA LAWYERS FOR SOCIAL EQUITY

Board of directors
as of 02/17/2024
SOURCE: Self-reported by organization
Board chair

Ryan Hancock

Willig, Williams & Davidson

Term: 2024 - 2024

Jeff Brown

Brown's Super Stores

Nicole Hunt

UNITEHERE LOCAL 634

Yvettee Jones Sizer

WHYY

Josie Reed

Campbell Soup Company

Hon. Karen Yvette Simmons

Philadelphia Municipal Court

Kathleen Lee

School teacher (ret.)

Glenn D. Barnes

Attorney

Akeem Sims

accountant

Ana Pujols McKee

The Joint Commission

Rev. Leslie Callahan

St Paul's Baptist Church

Charles Gibbs

McMonagle, Perri, McHugh, Mischak & Davis

Evan Figueroa-Vargas

City of Philadelphia

Ryan Allen Hancock

Willig Williams & Davidson

Rev. Dr. Michelle Anne Simmons

Why Not Prosper

Michael Solomonov

Cook 'n Solo

Jeffrey N. Rosenthal

Blank Rome LLP

Hillary B. Weinstein

Tucker Law Group

Board leadership practices

SOURCE: Self-reported by organization

GuideStar worked with BoardSource, the national leader in nonprofit board leadership and governance, to create this section.

  • Board orientation and education
    Does the board conduct a formal orientation for new board members and require all board members to sign a written agreement regarding their roles, responsibilities, and expectations? Yes
  • CEO oversight
    Has the board conducted a formal, written assessment of the chief executive within the past year ? Yes
  • Ethics and transparency
    Have the board and senior staff reviewed the conflict-of-interest policy and completed and signed disclosure statements in the past year? Yes
  • Board composition
    Does the board ensure an inclusive board member recruitment process that results in diversity of thought and leadership? Yes
  • Board performance
    Has the board conducted a formal, written self-assessment of its performance within the past three years? No

Organizational demographics

SOURCE: Self-reported; last updated 2/17/2024

Who works and leads organizations that serve our diverse communities? Candid partnered with CHANGE Philanthropy on this demographic section.

Leadership

The organization's leader identifies as:

Race & ethnicity
White/Caucasian/European
Gender identity
Female

Race & ethnicity

Gender identity

Transgender Identity

Sexual orientation

No data

Disability

No data

Equity strategies

Last updated: 12/30/2020

GuideStar partnered with Equity in the Center - an organization that works to shift mindsets, practices, and systems to increase racial equity - to create this section. Learn more

Data
  • We review compensation data across the organization (and by staff levels) to identify disparities by race.
Policies and processes
  • We seek individuals from various race backgrounds for board and executive director/CEO positions within our organization.
  • We have community representation at the board level, either on the board itself or through a community advisory board.
  • We engage everyone, from the board to staff levels of the organization, in race equity work and ensure that individuals understand their roles in creating culture such that one’s race identity has no influence on how they fare within the organization.