Thousands in Philly have arrests, convictions hurting job chances

A series of record clearing clinics, starting Saturday, aims to fix that

By: - May 21, 2022 6:30 am

(Getty Images photo)

By Stephen Williams

PHILADELPHIA — Thousands of Philadelphia residents have arrests or convictions that could be a barrier to employment, according The Promise, the public-private anti-poverty coalition funded by United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey, in partnership with the city.

Starting on Saturday, NOMO Foundation will host the first of 30 record-clearing clinics, from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. at 1212 S. Broad St. The other clinics will be hosted by 18 nonprofit groups that received grants from The Promise to hold clinics in their communities. This is part of pilot program that will run through June.

The rest of the schedule can be found on the website: thepromisephl.org/opportunity.

More clinics will be added to the schedule as they are confirmed.

The legal clinics will be conducted by Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE) Community Legal Services (CLS) and the Defender Association of Philadelphia.

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

People who have been incarcerated face a jobless rate that is five times higher than average. But arrests and convictions don’t just affect employment.

Although Black Americans make up 12.6 percent of the general population, they account for 27 percent of all arrests. In addition, Black Americans with a conviction are 50 percent less likely to be offered a job, according to The Promise.

It’s not just employment, it is estimated that past convictions create thousands of barriers to education, housing, business and financial opportunities, professional licensing, and more. The barriers cost an estimated $327 billion in lost wages to the U.S. economy and about $87 billion in lost gross domestic product (GDP), or the total of all goods and services produced in the U.S., each year.

In each clinic, the legal service group will perform an intake, go over the person’s legal record and provide an idea of the services needed to clear their record.

In 30 days, after a lawyer reviews the person’s record in full, the legal service provider will follow up to explain the services available to the person, including filing for expungement, applying for a pardon or in-house counsel, if necessary. The clinics are not meant to be a quick fix, but the first most necessary step in the process.

“The Jobs and Opportunity initiative builds on work all three legal organizations have been doing but scales it up to reach many more people with the potential to create a much bigger, game-changing impact,” said Taylor Pacheco, deputy executive director of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity. “This is an ambitious and powerful approach to solving a widespread problem.”

In addition to NOMO, other agencies receiving grants from The Promise include: African Cultural Alliance of North America (ACANA); Beyond Literacy; CEIBA; Community College of Philadelphia Foundation; Community of Compassion CDC; Eastern North Philadelphia Workforce Development Corp.; The Elevation Project; EMIR Healing Center; Institute for Community Justice; JEVS Human Services; New Kensington Community Development Corp.; Philadelphia Bail Fund; The Reawakening Agency; Revolutionary Vision CSC; Southwest Community Development Corp.; Uplift Solutions; and Urban League of Philadelphia.

In addition to the clinics, The Promise will convene a public awareness campaign to city residents with criminal records to take advantage of the clinic’s free legal counsel and inform the public about the impact of past convictions has on the local economy.

Based in Philadelphia, The Promise is a poverty action fund, dedicated to lifting 100,000 city residents out of poverty.

Stephen Williams is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared

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