A conviction for a low-level crime shouldnâ€™t come with a life sentence.
But many Pennsylvanians who undergo background checks when they seek jobs or housing are haunted by such past indiscretions for years after they commit them.
That is going to change under a new Pennsylvania law that will automatically seal records of most second- or third-degree misdemeanor offenses from public databases if a person has been conviction-free for 10 years.
Gov. Tom Wolf signed the so-called Clean Slate Bill into law Thursday, and it takes effect next year. Itâ€™s the first law of its kind in the nation.
The new law rightfully doesnâ€™t apply to more serious crimes such as murder, kidnapping, child endangerment, sexual offenses and firearms charges.
And it wonâ€™t completely erase eligible peopleâ€™s criminal records because police, courts and prosecutors will still be able to see them.
But it means employers and landlords doing background checks on job applicants and would-be tenants wonâ€™t see records of crimes including disorderly conduct, public drunkenness, shoplifting and some DUI offenses that happened more than a decade ago as long as the person has stayed out of trouble since.
That will make a difference in many Pennsylvaniansâ€™ lives. Nearly one in three Pennsylvania adults has a criminal record and, while not all of them will benefit from the new law, a significant number will.
For many of them, a better life is out of reach because they have to check a box on an application indicating they have a criminal record or a background check turns up an old, minor scrape with the law.
The new law could help them secure better jobs, better housing and a better quality of life, and that would be good for communities and the state as a whole.