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Penn Law documentary sheds light on discriminatory impact of Pennsylvania Victims Assistance Compensation Program

June 18, 2019

The Penn Program on Documentaries and the Law, directed by Law Professor Regina Austin, has produced a new documentary that exposes the discriminatory impact of a provision of the Pennsylvania Victims Assistance Compensation Program (“VCAP”) law that denies assistance to victims who contribute, or are suspected of contributing, to their own death or injury. The “causal contribution” provision extends to expenses paid for the funerals of homicide victims and the medical and psychological care required by survivors of violence.

“‘Profiled in Life & Death: Crime Victims Compensation and Young People of Color’ illustrates the way in which the carceral state bleeds into and controls the lives of less well-off people of color and exacts punishment even on the presumed innocent,” said Austin. “Illustrating that phenomenon has been a focus of critical visual criminology since the 2014 death of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.”

Interviews for “Profiled in Life & Death” were produced and directed by three Penn Law students who have since graduated: Matthew A. Feldman L’18, Joanna Hoodes L’18, and Frances Weil L’18. The narrator is Alexander Dawson, IV, L’20.  The collaborators on the project were E.M.I.R. (Every Murder Is Real) Healing Center, the Pennsylvania Institutional Law Project and Souls Shot: Portraits of Victims of Gun Violence.

Austin is the William A. Schnader Professor of Law and the Director of the Penn Program on Documentaries & the Law, which hosts screenings of law-genre documentary films throughout the year, maintains a national repository of dozens of clemency videos as a resource for attorneys representing capital defendants, and offers a visual legal advocacy seminar in which law students make videos on behalf of actual public interest clients and causes. 

Watch the documentary here.