Pennsylvania Driving People with Drug Convictions into Poverty

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Yesterday, we filed a lawsuit against Governor Tom Wolf and Pennsylvania’s Department of Transportation for suspending the driver’s licenses of any person convicted of a drug offense, even when that offense is unrelated to driving or the offender has a perfect traffic safety record.

Between 2011 and 2016, Pennsylvania suspended the licenses of nearly 149,000 drivers solely because of drug-related offenses, including possession of a small amount of marijuana. This law targets those who have already been sentenced and is an unfair attempt to place additional punishment on drug-offenders. 38 states have already repealed similar laws.

suspended licenses

Without the ability to drive,

people can’t find and maintain employment, pursue education, keep medical appointments, or care for loved ones.

Losing a driver’s license is an extraordinary punishment that negatively affects virtually every aspect of a person’s life. Without the ability to drive, people can’t find and maintain employment, pursue education, keep medical appointments, or care for loved ones.

This unfair license suspension scheme particularly targets Pennsylvania’s impoverished neighborhoods, which are more likely to be policed. This discriminatory system makes it nearly impossible for former offenders to rehabilitate and traps many hard-working Pennsylvanians in an endless cycle of poverty.

The two named plaintiffs are both fathers living in Philadelphia who had their licenses suspended for possession of marijuana. Harold Russell, a disabled father with 6 children and 9 grandchildren, struggles to maintain his home cleaning business. Without a license, he can’t drive to clients’ houses and has seen his weekly income drop from $700 to $200 — if he can get any work at all. Sean Williams, 25, has a son who was born prematurely who has been in the hospital for the first eight months of his life but is due to be released soon. Sean worries that without a license he will not be able to safely transport his son to necessary doctor’s appointments or seek medical help in the case of an emergency.

The lawsuit (Case No. 2:18-cv-00115-RK) has been filed in partnership with Goldstein Mehta, LLC.

Marissa Hatton