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Newsletter Vol 5 No 10

October 2023

US Small Business Administration Proposes Rule Change

You’ve read in past newsletters how the US Small Business Administration (SBA) has a “check the box” requirement and routinely excludes people with convictions from its many programs. According to a new press release from the SBA announcing a proposed rule change, the evidence is now in:

“[T]he relevant research … found no evidence of a negative impact on repayment for qualified individuals with criminal history records in any American business loan program.”

This great news. The release continues: 

“This lack of data demonstrates that continuing to rely on this restriction for that purpose would contradict the available evidence and although the restrictions may have been originally put in place with the goal of protecting program performance, the lack of data suggests continuing to rely on this restriction would reflect an outdated, inaccurate structural bias against individuals with criminal history records. Specifically, research demonstrates that employment increases success during reentry and decreases the risk of recidivism, with entrepreneurship providing an important and distinct avenue for economic stability given persistent stigma from employers who may decline to hire people with criminal history records.”

Powerful words from the SBA itself!

“Notably, SBA found several studies showing the difficulty of obtaining employment for formerly incarcerated people and a positive link between employment and successful reentry, including avoiding recidivism. Moreover, because justice-impacted individuals may face barriers in obtaining employment, entrepreneurship can be an attractive option, and SBA found several studies showing the potential for entrepreneurship among Americans with criminal histories.”

The SBA has now published Criminal Justice Reviews for the SBA Business Loan Programs and Surety Bond Guaranty Program and proposed changes designed to make their programs less exclusionary to those with criminal records. 

The comment period is open until November 14th, so if you are a business leader, click on the above link to submit your words of encouragement! 

Launch of the Philadelphia Fountain Fund

Congratulations to the Fountain Fund, GreenLight Philadelphia for a successful launch event party. The Fountain Fund provides low-interest loans and financial coaching to people formerly incarcerated, helping them build credit and achieve their self-determined goals. The Fund is one of seven projects sponsored by GreenLight in Philadelphia and scores more across the country. PLSE‘s Executive Director Renee Chenault Fattah serves on the Fountain Funds Advisory Board. 

Greenlight Executive Director Felicia Rinier, Fountain Fund Director Mike Butler, and Program Associate Danielle Hughes

PLSE ED Renee Chenault-Fattah and Philadelphia Entrepreneur Richard Binswanger

An Evening of Justice, Food, and Art

Don’t miss a Night of Justice and Arts:

November 16th from 5:30-8:30pm

at The Lucy, 231 S. Broad St., Philadelphia, PA

There will be great food and drink, art, and fellowship, all to support the important work of Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity. Artists from the acclaimed Philadelphia Mural Arts restorative justice program will have their work on display and available for purchase. The night will also feature an auction with artist Valentino Dixon whose art is in the private collection of Former President Barack Obama and he will talk about the connection between art and social justice. There will also be a signed print of “Any One of Us” from Erie’s award-winning artist Antonio Howard up for auction. Don’t miss out on what will certainly be a wonderful evening. 

Buy your tickets here!

Join our Team!

PLSE is hiring a new staff attorney.

Spread the word and learn more about the position here >

PLSE Staff Attorney Position

The Numbers Don’t Lie…

These data come from our recently filed IRS Form 990:

In FY2023 PLSE assisted 1,901 low-income individuals from 152 different zip codes, including all 47 residential zip codes in Philadelphia. 1,241 of them were accepted as new clients. For the 660 whom we could not represent (because they either weren’t income-eligible or they didn’t have convictions in Philadelphia County), we provided brief service -- information and/or referral. We filed a total of 7,329 expungement petitions. PLSE held 16 Criminal Record Information Clinics in direct partnership with The Promise and 42 other clinics that all involved community education, and we held 18 training sessions for people willing to volunteer as “Pardon Coaches”.

PLSE deserves your support: Contribute to us and our work.

58 More Pardon Applicants Head to the Governor’s Desk, But Still More Work to be Done 

On October 13, 2023, in a welcome break from prior practice, the Board of Pardons held public hearings for 58 pardon applicants (from 22 counties; 9 from Philadelphia, specifically) at a time previously reserved for public hearings on commutation cases. The pardon hearings added little time to the session, as no questions were asked of the applicants who were excused from attending, as all 58 already received overwhelming support at the Merit Review stage. We laud the Board for this positive improvement and hope they continue to implement changes which expedite the pardon process, thus ultimately strengthening our communities. 

Despite the good news, the wait is not over for these 58 applicants, all of whom are in limbo until their pardons receive a signature from the Governor. Even then, once they receive their signed pardon, their record is not clear. Though the PA Supreme Court has ruled that a record must be expunged when the pardon is signed, one must still file a petition for expungement and wait for a judge to issue the order. 

Yet, as the following example shows, sometimes that isn’t even the end of it. In January 2022, K.B. received a full pardon from Governor Tom Wolf for a 2019 marijuana possession. A judge on the Delaware County Court of Common Pleas granted the K.B.’s petition and Ordered the case expunged. But then, the Clerk’s Office said No! It refused to expunge the conviction because K.B. had not paid off the $897.75 still owed in court costs. 

What now? The ACLU has filed a lawsuit asking the Judge to Order the Clerk to clear K.B.’s record.   

How can you help make the process easier for pardon applicants? 

Sign our online letter urging the Gov to make pardons his priority!

Cause for Automatic Expungements Advance In Harrisburg

Why should a pardon recipient even have to file an expungement petition in the Court? The PA Supreme Court has held a pardon “blots out” any evidence of the crime “as if [it was] never committed.” 

That’s the whole point of SB 944. Sponsored by State Senator Camera Bartolotta (R-Beaver, Green, Washington Counties) and 9 other Senators (Street, Saval, Haywood, Collett, Kane, Cappelletti, Costa, Kearney, Schwank and Hughes), that Bill would allow pardons to go straight from the Gov’s desk to the Administrative Office of the PA Courts for immediate entry! It’s been referred to the Senate Judiciary Committee -- which just recently voted out “Clean Slate 3.0” (HB 689).

Thanks to an amendment offered by its Chair Sen. Karen Baker (R-Luzerne, Pike, Susquehanna, Wayne and Wyoming Counties), that Bill that would achieve the same result!

Stay tuned for updates on the progress of the bill. 


Known for having invented the zipper and been the home of the largest corset manufacturer in the world, Meadville is a lovely community in NW PA – historic buildings, welcoming people, and now, the newest Pardon Project in the commonwealth (and the nation!). This past Tuesday night, the Public Library was packed to watch the film Pardon Me and hear from a panel of people including Mindy Davis, the regional Parole Manager for the PA Department of Corrections, Reentry Division. Mayor Jaime Kinder welcomed everyone and pledged her support as the project starts recruiting Pardon Coaches beyond its initial core groups. “Thank you, Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity, for bringing this wonderful opportunity to Meadville,” she said. “Meadville is a special place because we support each other, and this is something that fits perfectly with who we are.”

Armando’s Story, and Zach’s

Armando's journey began with homelessness and drug selling in the early 2000s. His incarceration sobered him up and instilled a new perspective on life, something he remains immensely grateful for. After his release, he obtained a job at a restaurant and climbed the ladder to become co-owner. Determined not to stop there, he also obtained his CDL and related certifications and became financially stable. He had moved on, thanks to grit and determination. 

A routine traffic stop shattered all that. An error in his criminal record caused him to be arrested for a parole violation related to his old case, causing him to spend 3 weeks in jail before the paperwork error was confirmed and the charges dismissed. He realized he wasn’t free from his past and would always be a felon. Angry, frustrated and afraid, he came to PLSE for help. 

With the help of his Pardon Coach, he was able to think back on all that he had accomplished. In Section 4 of the Application he wrote about his past, his pain, his struggle and his transformation. His Coach helped him put together a very impressive collection of supporting letters and certificates he had earned. THIS was who he is today. It made him proud.

Zach qualifies for the BOP’s new accelerated review program. With luck, his hearing will happen in a year.

Armando was Zach’s first client. Zach had only recently finished his own pardon application. He knew he wanted to help others, but wasn’t sure how, or if he could. Armando’s past was so different from his own. “Working on the pardon application with Armando was initially a challenge,” Zach wrote. But helping Armando articulate his transformation and see what he had achieved gave Zach a new perspective on his own life’s journey. “I’m very grateful for the opportunity to assist individuals like Armando and hope to continue helping others through their own challenges.” 

Zach is now a Pardon Fellow in Cumberland County – someone with lived experience helping others apply for pardons – and a member of our Pardon Project Steering Committee. Thank you, Zach!

If you have lived experience in the criminal justice system and want to help others apply, or help us with statewide advocacy, email the PPSC at and they will quickly get in touch with you!

Record-Clearing: Making Real News!

It’s tedious reading the “Will you? Could he? Should we?” press stories about the President’s pardon power. Refreshingly, we are starting to see some real news on how pardons in Pennsylvania can be used today to give hope and release potential.  

Click to read these stories:

Employee Spotlight:

It has been a great month for Moriah Mendicino, our Equal Justice Works Fellow Attorney. In addition to creating a regularly scheduled pro se pardon training and workshop and leading a monthly training at Uplfit Solutions, she also has been extremely helpful in reviewing client applications to determine their eligibility for services. But the most exciting news of all is Moriah learned she passed the bar exam earlier in the month!

After graduating from the University of Colorado, Moriah accepted a job in education and relocated to Philadelphia where she taught middle and high school while earning her Master of Science in Education from the University of Pennsylvania. After teaching for four years, Moriah enrolled in Rutgers Law School – Camden where she served as a court-appointed mediator, co-lead of the Street Law student organization, University Senator and Senior Managing Editor of Rutgers Race and the Law Review.

She first joined PLSE as a legal intern in 2021 and returned in the fall of 2022 as an Equal Justice Works Fellow sponsored by Comcast and Duane Morris LLP.

Thank you, Moriah, and congratulations! 

Three ways YOU can help:

  1. Buy a ticket to and attend our November 16 evening “Justice, Food and Art” fundraiser
  2. Write the SBA in support of its proposed regulations eliminating criminal records as ground for ineligibility
  3. Read more about the documentary short Pardon Me.

Because Social Justice Requires Social Action

Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity
230 S. Broad Street, Suite 1102, Philadelphia PA 19102
(267) 519-5323
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