Your past shouldn’t be a barrier to your future
A first-time or low-level offense—or even an arrest that leads to no charges—can pose significant challenges that are lifelong, well outlasting any sentence served. Experts estimate that past convictions create over 40,000 barriers to education, housing, financial opportunities, professional licensing, and many more.
Nine out of 10 employers currently use background checks for new employees and some also run a screening when considering an existing employee’s eligibility for promotion. Even with recent legislation, an old conviction can interfere with the ability to obtain professional development training or required occupational licenses in Pennsylvania.
Unemployment rates are generally more than 5 times higher for formerly incarcerated people. At the same time, people with criminal records are about half as likely as others to get a callback or job offer. The Brennan Center for Justice estimates that people who spend time in prison may see their annual earnings reduced by 52 percent. That interferes with their ability to provide for themselves and their family or contribute to the financial growth of their community.
Nine out of 10 landlords use criminal background screening reports for lease applications. Public housing, temporary housing, student housing and home sales can also be legally denied for some types of convictions. After incarceration, an individual’s likelihood of homeownership drops by more than 45 percent. Having stable housing is necessary for moving out of poverty.
People with past convictions, outstanding bench warrants, violations of probation and lack of compliance with court fees or restitution may be ineligible for public benefit programs.
Financial lenders may conduct background checks, limiting the accessibility of personal and small business loans, with higher costs for consumer credit and banking and savings accounts—exacerbated further by the barriers convictions pose to housing and employment.
About 72 percent of educational institutions require applicants to disclose a criminal history. Denials can result from youth offender adjudications, pending misdemeanors or misdemeanor arrests. Federal student aid can also be denied for a criminal background.
All of these barriers can make it tremendously difficult to build a stable life, which can in turn lead to recidivism. The good news is that many in Pennsylvania have served their sentence and avoided further criminal involvement are eligible to clear their past record.