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Pardon Project holds first legal clinic in York

Organizers said a pardon is a powerful tool for a second chance at life.

YORK, Pa. — The Pardon Project of York County held its first legal clinic on Oct. 24 to help people with certain criminal convictions apply for pardons and expungements.

Dozens attended the clinic, where lawyers from the York County Bar Association and MidPenn Legal Services offered their services pro bono.

A criminal record can be a significant barrier to getting a job, renting an apartment, getting a loan and more.

“I haven’t been able to get certain jobs,” said Tavon Parker, a York resident who received two nonviolent convictions six years ago and now does motivational speaking. “What I do with motivational speaking, there are certain boards that frown upon my history and my record. Really being able to have something that still holds you back mentally and physically is something that I’m looking forward to getting off.”

Parker learned he is eligible to request a pardon, but the process is long. It involves collecting and submitting documents, being interviewed by a parole officer, speaking before the state Board of Pardons, and finally, having the governor sign the pardon.

In the meantime, Parker is using his experience to mentor others. The Advantage Program exposes York area youth to experiences in entrepreneurship, financial literacy, civil engagement, culinary arts, athletics and business principles.

“[Having to apply for a pardon] is a part of the process that I hope our kids don’t have to go through,” he said.

To guide participants through the process, the Pardon Project assigns each person a “Pardon Fellow.”

The very first Pardon Fellow, DeShawn Harrison, said he wants to help other people move on with their lives, even as he has his own felony convictions that won’t be eligible to be pardoned for another two years.

“If you get those felonies lifted, you can now go back to school, you can get better housing, jobs, loans,” Harrison said. “Whatever you decide to do without a felony, you now have a second chance at doing it.”

Participants may be eligible for either expungement or pardon. An expungement is generally used for charges or a trial that never resulted in a conviction, while a pardon is generally the only way to erase a felony from the public record in Pennsylvania.

Criminal law attorneys said many people don’t know what’s on their record, especially if the conviction happened many years ago.

“People just don’t understand the system, so most people don’t know what their record is,” said York attorney Suzanne Smith. “They don’t know if it was a summary, if it was a felony, if it was a misdemeanor, and so our attorneys tonight are assisting people in figuring out what their record is and then sending them in a direction of expungement or pardon.”

Pardon Project leaders hope to continue holding quarterly clinics, as well as to expand the clinics throughout York County.

To be eligible for the clinic, you must: live in York County and have only York County arrests or charges, have no current criminal charges and not be serving probation or on parole. For a pardon, all fines, fees or restitutions must be paid in full or in repayment.

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