Pennsylvania Law Cuts Into Institutional Racism

A new Pennsylvania law will take steps towards eliminating institutional racism.  On July 1, Gov. Tom Wolf signed legislation that forbids the state’s licensing boards from automatically disqualifying applicants because of their criminal history.

Previously, it didn’t matter how long ago a crime occurred or whether the offense had any relation to the license’s qualifications. The rules often shut convicts out.

Now, each situation must be reviewed on its merits, and within the profession, they want to enter. Details of the legislation are still left up to interpretation, but this is a step in the right direction for those that have been into the criminal justice system. To learn more about this law and see how it may affect Michigan, we spoke to several top lawyers in our state to gain their insight.

Matthew McManus is the Managing Member of McManus and Amadeo in Ann Arbor, Michigan. He has developed a reputation as one of the top business minds in the legal community. When asked about the new law, McManus stated, “Growing up in New York, the laws differed. It was always understood in the “tri-state area” (New York, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania) there were options for those that came out of the system and back into society.  Sadly, in Michigan, we do not see the same types of legislation regularly. With this law, we see a step in the right direction, but it is far from perfect. For example, if you have been convicted of a sex offense, you cannot hold a barbers license. To place these types of obstacles in the way of those trying to have a positive future is frustrating. We need to have legislation that will help those re-enter the job market, not be judged by a past criminal record.”

Jennifer Kelley is a Senior Associate for McManus and Amadeo. She is known as one of the top family law attorneys in Michigan. When asked about the law, Kelley replied, “We need more progressive legislation in Michigan. When you handle a divorce, the criminal history of the parties always comes into play. Not even criminal history, but sometimes the mere allegations of criminal activity can play a role. When somebody is charged, there is a stigma that comes with it, and even if you are found not guilty, there is a stigma that comes with the allegations.  When we see a law like this, it gives hope to many who have suffered from their past mistakes.”

William Amadeo is a partner at McManus and Amadeo and is known as one of the top criminal lawyers in Michigan. When asked about the law, Amadeo provided his insight when he said, “We see institutional racism. This legislation is a step in the right direction but a baby step. Does anybody realize how many young black men and women take plea deals to limit their incarceration exposure? Once the defendant does what they have to do to protect their freedom, they are limited in jobs that do not require higher education?  Michigan needs to take a cue from Pennsylvania and make further advances. Yes, the Pennsylvania law is a win but a small one.”

The job market for those with a criminal history has always been a compromised one. With COVID-19 still present, this problematic situation has grown to a more desperate state. Seeing Pennsylvania take a step in the right direction is positive. Still, the question remains what Michigan will do to advance this crisis?

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