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Social Justice Ministry Team presents: Panel Discussion on Life Without Parole

Presented by The Task Force Against Mass Incarceration and

the Social Justice Ministry Team

Sunday, April 12, 12:30 PM, Parish Room
Bringing our values of Redemption and Forgiveness to the public square – the SJMT will host a panel discussion on Ending Life Without Parole and an opportunity to view a banner made by lifers at Graterford State Prison. 

Banner on Life Without Parole (LWOP)  -  A large two sided banner made by a group of lifers at Graterford State Prison will be on display during the coffee hour in the Parish room. The banner includes the responses of those inside to the question of "Why LWOP Should be Abolished in PA".  The comments are varied and poignant, touching on issues of redemption and forgiveness.

Panel Discussion on Life Without Parole  -   LWOP is the mandatory minimum sentence for all first and second degree murders in Pennsylvania and has come to be known as "the other death sentence": death by incarceration. Pennsylvania is one of only six states that deny parole to lifers and has more than 480 people serving Juvenile Life without Parole (JLWOP), more than any other state in the union. Our panel will discuss many issues around LWOP including possible alternatives and its impact on families and communities.


  • Sarah Morris -- LWOP in Pennsylvania: What are the alternatives?
  • Tyrone Werts – What needs to change to restore a meaningful commutation process?
  • Patricia Vickers – The impact of JLWOP on juveniles and their families
  • Karen Wolfe – Recent and pending cases on JLWOP on the docket of the US Supreme Court

Bios of the Panelists:


Sarah Morris is the coordinator of the Youth Art and Self Empowerment  Project (YASP). This project holds workshops in the Philadelphia jails, providing space for young people to express themselves creatively and to develop leadership skills, and workshops in the city schools on the School to Prison Pipeline. Sarah’s involvement with this project grew out of her service as a fellow with the American Friends Service Committee here in Philadelphia.  She is also a very active member of decarceratePA and the Coalition Against Death By Incarceration (CADBI) and finds time to visit regularly with lifers at Graterford. 


Tyrone Werts is an outlier in that his sentence for LWOP was commuted by Governor Rendell upon recommendation of the pardons board in 2010 after he had served 36 years.  During the eight years Governor Rendell was in office, only five individuals had their LWOP sentences commuted.  No life sentences have been commuted since 2010. While in prison he was instrumental in the development of the Inside-Out Prison Exchange Program at Temple University. This program brings students and inmates together for college classes and community exchanges related to the criminal justice system - a transformative experience for both the inmates and the college students. The program is now international involving 40 states, and 250 colleges, universities and institutions in the United States and 8 other countries.  In 2013, Tyrone was selected to be a Soros Justice Fellow, a singular honor.  He continues to be active in various organizations aimed at reducing crime and recidivism, and speaks and consults regularly.


Patricia Vickers is the mother of a young man who was sentenced to JLWOP. She is the founder of the Human Rights Coalition. The goals of the HRC are to empower prisoners’ families to be leaders in prison organizing, while at the same time reducing the shame of having loved ones in prison.  In addition HRC is dedicated to making visible to the public the injustice and abuse that are common practice in our judicial and prison systems, and to eventually end such abuse. 


Karen Wolfe is a public defender and the President of the First Unitarian Church of Philadelphia.


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