Approximately 90% of the people in PCSI's Workforce program have a criminal background. Even something as simple as getting a driver’s license for transportation, which keeps them out of even more jeopardy, becomes a challenge. So, when the opportunity to work with the Pardon Project came about, PCSI partnered with them and other organizations to help overcome the barriers to having a criminal background record.
"Since January 2020, 271 out of 294 individuals registered with PCSI indicate they have a criminal background," says A. Odell Richardson, PCSI's Executive Director.
Over time, PCSI has made tremendous inroads in partnering with employers who will hire people with criminal backgrounds, which has been a long-standing issue. However, opportunity knocked even further when the process to obtain a pardon, for as many people as possible, was introduced by Tobey Oxholm, Director of the Pardon Project, out of Philadelphia.
In early 2020, Mr. Oxholm, who is a Lawyer in Philly, made a presentation to PCSI's staff under the recommendation of A. Odell Richardson, PCSI's Executive Director. Mr. Oxholm outlined the whole process, step by step, for this no-cost community development strategy. The current Lieutenant Governor sits on the pardon committee, which has set up a type of fast-track process to get pardons approved quicker. He emphasizes that while the current administration is in office over the next two years, agencies should try to get as many people into the pipeline as is possible.
It takes a long time - about two years from start to finish - for the pardon process to be completed. There are not enough people in the pipeline and Mr. Oxholm's effort is to get as many people as he can across the state involved. He could not find anyone involved in the pardon process in the western part of the state. So PSCI, under the leadership of Odell, decided that they would engage this opportunity to change lives, over the long-term.
“We’re going to step up. This is a significant part of the population that we work with. We’re going to get the Pardon Hub going,” said Odell about that moment in time.
PCSI staff attended the training and they started formally as a hub in June 2020. Kurt Mennitti, Workforce Developer for PCSI, conducts them and they work with the Public Defender’s office to promote awareness of the program.
So, what are some numbers since PCSI partnered to becme a Pardon Project Hub for PCSI clients in June of 2020?
- 50 PCSI clients have the application process started.
- 12 have signed up for the next pardon hub on 2/10/21.
- 22 more people are interested in attending the next event with the Public Defender Office on 03/04/21.
- 34 additional have watched PCSI's YouTube walk-through video.
PCSI has been guiding as many of those 271 people (like Chelsey Sirmons in the January edition of this newsletter) into their newly developed PCSI Pardon Hub, which offers quarterly Expungement Clinic Events. These events cover:
- employment opportunites
- job readiiness skills
- the expungement process
- a walk- through of the pardon application
The 22 YouTube walk-through videos, called "Job Club: Bridge The Barrier", educates individuals with state level charges through a variety of topics related to the pardon process, expungement process and seeking employment with a criminal record. These videos are hosted by PCSI's very own, Kurt Mennitti, in PCSI's Workforce Development.
Odell also emphasizes to CAAP that people with criminal records are a diverse group and this is not just an urban area issue. The issue of records impacts both blacks and whites - in both rural and urban areas.
He seriously encourages all of Community Action, that through our network, which covers the state, to get involved - that we should try to get people involved in that process.
"Some people might think that it's not relevent to them because they are more rural - that this might be more relevant to Pittsburgh and Philladelphia. However, this is also an issue In the countryside and rural areas. I’m sure the same issues are impacted on both those populations. A record is a record.” says Odell.
If you are interested in learning more about the PCSI Pardon Hub, please reach out to Kurtis Mennitti or view the 22 instructional videos he developed on PCSI's YouTube Channel called PCSI Workforce Development. Anyone in PA can benefit from them.
To reach Tobey Oxholm regarding the Pardon Project, send an email, visit his website or call 215-783-2329.
PCSI would also like to thank other partners who contribute daily to the employment of the PCSI clients with criminal records. Duquesne Law School, which has helped foster the expungement program, comes to events to look up records and research how they might be expunged. It is a long process to expungement that takes up to two years to complete and though it only relates to state charges, Duquesne supports learning whether it can be done.
The other partners that PCSI would like to acknowledge for the successful outcomes of their clients with records include:
- Bedford Hill Apartments
- Allegheny Health Network
- Columbia Gas
- Flagger Force (Specifically with their Mentor Program)
Click here for a recent article in the New Pittsburgh Courier on the Hub.