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Compassionate Release Collaborative (CRC)

The Compassionate Release Collaborative (CRC) is a pro bono project that helps seriously ill inmates in Pennsylvania’s prisons file petitions for compassionate release so that they can return to the community for hospice and end-of-life care.

What we do:

CRC’s work is comprised of 1) intake interviewing and 2) preparation of petitions. At the first stage, CRC screens potential clients and chooses to work with individuals whose cases seem appropriate for compassionate release. Second, CRC helps to collect the necessary paperwork and draft the compassionate release petition to be submitted on the client’s behalf. Students can attend hearings for these petitions in court to observe. We are working toward having students speak on the record as certified legal interns to advocate for the clients we represent as well.

How we do it:

CRC partners with the Abolitionist Law Center (ALC), a public interest law firm and organizing project which provides free and low-cost legal services to individuals incarcerated in Pennsylvania. CRC volunteers may be asked to review potential clients’ intake information and draft memos assessing their appropriateness for compassionate release, correspond with selected clients to ensure the timely completion of necessary documents, and help draft compassionate release petitions under the supervision of ALC.

How and when can I join:

CRC is seeking interested collaborators and volunteers. To be placed on our mailing list, please email Sara Schuster saraschu@penncareylaw.upenn.edu or Abigail Oliver aoliver1@penncareylaw.upenn.edu.

What skills will I develop:

Experience with the criminal legal system, interviewing clients, memo and petition writing, working with vulnerable clients, drafting court pleadings, oral argument.

This work (intake and legal representation) is likely to be New York Bar eligible.

Criminal Record Expungement Project (C-REP)

The Criminal Record Expungement Project (C-REP) aims to reduce the negative effects of a criminal record on a person’s life, including limited access to employment, educational opportunities, housing, and public benefits.

What we do:

C-REP works with Philadelphians who have criminal records by conducting intake clinics for clients, processing intake applications, and filing petitions to expunge and redact non-conviction data from clients’ criminal records.

How we do it:

C-REP partners with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (“PLSE”), a non-profit legal aid organization dedicated to improving the lives of low-income individuals who are affected by the Pennsylvania criminal justice system. There are three intake clinics per semester that take place on Saturdays in West Philadelphia. During these clinics, volunteers meet with clients, listen to their stories, and screen their criminal records for expungement-eligible (i.e. non-conviction) charges. Volunteers may be able to participate in more than one clinic depending on interest and availability. There are also opportunities for volunteers to draft expungement petitions.

How and when can I join:

Opportunities are emailed to the CREP listserv as they become available and are assigned on a first come, first served basis. Interested volunteers may email the Co-Chairs, Karson Taylor (karson@penncareylaw.upenn.edu) and Angela Yoon (alyoon@penncareylaw.upenn.edu).

What skills will I develop:

Interviewing & intake, client counseling, drafting court documents, and engaging with the community by working with vulnerable clients.

The work is likely to be New York Bar eligible.

Decarceration Advocacy Project (formerly Prison Legal Education Project)

The goal of the Decarceration Advocacy Project, formerly the Prison Legal Education Project, is to support the decarceration movement by empowering people who are currently incarcerated in Pennsylvania jails and prisons through legal education, post-conviction relief assistance, and policy change. Through this work, we hope to give incarcerated individuals resources and support so they know, and can pursue, their legal rights.

What we do:

The Decarceration Advocacy Project is composed of three parts:

Legal Education: We work with incarcerated people in the women’s units at Philadelphia Industrial Correctional Center (PICC) to create legal resources to meet their expressed needs. We facilitate weekly discussions on Friday afternoons (12:30PM) about these resources. Topics include, but are not limited to, steps of misdemeanor and felony criminal cases, court-appointed attorneys, family law, housing law, plea decisions and their consequences, resources for when they are out (food, shelter, healthcare, etc.), search and seizure law, self-defense law, and tax law. We also translate our resources into Spanish.

Post Conviction: Incarcerated individuals have a right to pursue appeals of their convictions and submit post-conviction challenges after a conviction is finalized. We partner with legal organizations in Philadelphia to assist incarcerated individuals in filing Post-Conviction Relief Act (PCRA) petitions and challenging their conditions of confinement. Work includes legal research and writing, client communication, and file review.

Death Penalty Policy (DP3): We work with the Death Penalty Policy Project to provide insight and commentary on how the death penalty affects mass incarceration in Pennsylvania and around the country. Currently, 24 states still have an active death penalty statute, and three states are on moratorium while the current administration remains in place, including Pennsylvania. Our team works alongside DP3 lead by Rob Dunham, founder of the Death Penalty Information Center, to research imperative ties between the death penalty, retribution, deterrence, anti-democratic laws, and a plethora of other issues.

How we do it:

Legal Education: Volunteers work with incarcerated individuals at PICC during each weekly lesson alongside other Penn Carey Law students. We disseminate our weekly resources and then talk with folks in small groups or one-on-one about the resources. We listen to people’s stories and write down any information that should be added to our handouts. We do not provide individual legal advice. Transportation to the jail is covered by TPIC. No prior knowledge about the Philadelphia legal system is required as we will have trainings throughout the semester.

Post Conviction: Volunteers assist attorneys with their clients’ PCRA petitions by conducting legal research, file review, and any other necessary assistance. Depending on the client and the partner organization, some work will be a year-long commitment to one client, while other work will be assigned as discrete projects with specified time commitments.

Death Penalty Policy: Volunteers will provide DP3 with discrete legal research projects that may be used by defense attorneys and legislators to rebut the death penalty. Each assignment will differ regarding time commitments, but most deadlines are flexible. A project may include researching bills that have passed or will pass in states that have the death penalty, researching current rates of execution warrants, or any relevant projects that occur due to changes in legislation.

How and when can I join:

Interested volunteers should email the current co-chairs, Yasmine Seghir (yseghir@penncareylaw.upenn.edu) and Dominique Malone (domim@penncareylaw.upenn.edu) for an application. You can also visit us at the Pro Bono sign up fair! Please note that DAP only accepts new volunteers in the beginning of the Fall and Spring semesters and requires at least one academic semester’s commitment.

What skills will I develop:

Working with incarcerated clients, community lawyering, legal research, legal writing, legal analysis, classroom management, public speaking, presentation skills, teaching and making legal jargon digestible.

This work is likely to be New York Bar eligible.

Law & Justice Mentorship Program

The Law & Justice Mentorship Program (LJMP) is a pipeline initiative aimed toward connecting high school students of color, historically underrepresented in the legal profession, to critical pre-law opportunities and mentorship. The program aims to increase high school students’ exposure to and enrollment in local law schools. 

What we do:

LJMP operates through a partnership with the School District of Philadelphia, Heights Philadelphia, the Pepper Center for Public Service and local high schools.

LJMP’s structure has three components: In-School Sessions, Summer Internships, and Mentorship. In our In-School Sessions, LJMP volunteers lead problem-solving workshops and guide student discussion on key topics. Last year’s topics included mass incarceration, immigration and gun violence. These in-school sessions also feature workshops with local lawyers and advocates.

How we do it:

Law students lead classroom sessions every other week at a local high school to guide discussions about current and meaningful legal issues and lead problem-solving workshops. 

How and when can I join:

The in-classroom sessions begin in January 2025. Interested volunteers should sign up now to complete the background clearance process and orientation for the project. If you are interested in joining, email project leader Joy Dartey.

What skills will I develop:

Community engagement, leadership, group management, education and public speaking.

Pardon Project

The Pardon Project is committed to reducing the collateral consequences of criminal convictions by assisting Philadelphia residents with pardon applications.

Mission Statement:

The Penn Law Pardon Project empowers people to move past their prior convictions. Despite having already paid for their crimes in bail, jail time, and court costs, formerly convicted persons continue to face discrimination when they try to get jobs, go back to school, apply for housing, and register to vote. In Pennsylvania, the only way to remove a felony or non-summary misdemeanor conviction from a record is by receiving a Pardon from the Governor. The Penn Law Pardon Project pairs students with client-partners to complete the pardon application process.

What we do:

We work with Philadelphia residents with criminal convictions that are seeking a pardon from the Governor. We work in collaboration with our client-partners in every aspect of the pardon application including helping secure court files, writing the required essays, and filling out the required forms.

How we do it:

The Pardon Project is a year-long pro-bono project where students are paired with at least one client-partner and work in collaboration with Community Legal Services and Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity. Students will work with the client-partner over the course of the year to complete the pardon application.

How and when can I join:

Participants can complete an application to join in the Fall. Participants attend training in the Fall and commit to the project for the full academic year. If you have questions, please email the Pardon Project Co-Directors, Zoe Verni, Ruth Woldemichael, Cayla Kaplan

 

What skills will I develop:

Client counseling and interviewing skills, legal analysis skills, legal writing, and advocacy skills.

The work is likely to be New York Bar eligible.

Penn Law’s Walk-In Legal Assistance Project (WILA)

At a weekly clinic, WILA provides accessible civil legal services to people who are experiencing homelessness and housing insecurity.

What we do:

Students complete intake services and assist with birth certificate applications, SSI/SSDI screenings, tax returns, landlord/tenant disputes, issues with public benefits, and other civil legal issues at a weekly meal program. Students may also complete work outside of the regular times of the clinic as required for cases or outreach projects.

How we do it:

People who are attending a weekly meal program come to the legal clinic’s station when they are looking for legal assistance or advocacy. Students conduct an intake interview and assist with completing the applicable civil legal services while working closely with the supervising attorney.

Who we work with:

We work with clients who are housing insecure or experiencing homelessness at a weekly meal program, run by the University City Hospitality Coalition (UCHC). Additionally, WILA partners with the Homeless Advocacy Project, an organization that delivers legal services directly to people experiencing homelessness where they live and eat.

How and when can I join:

Students should complete WILA’s volunteer application during the first few weeks of the fall semester, which will be made available through On the Docket. Upon acceptance, WILA volunteers must attend a Homeless Advocacy Project training, offered at the law school, before they can begin assisting clients. After the application period has closed, interested students should email Volunteer Coordinator Rachel Biggio at rbiggio@penncareylaw.upenn.edu.

What skills will I develop:

Interviewing and intake, client counseling, access to government and social services, community engagement, legal analysis.

The work is likely to be New York Bar eligible.

Youth Education Program (YEP)

The Youth Education Program (YEP) introduces high school students to the basics of law and legal argumentation through weekly lessons and preparation for a moot court competition in the spring.

What we do:

We teach Philadelphia high schoolers basic constitutional principles and provide an opportunity for enrichment in the social sciences. We also help students develop public speaking skills and build arguments to effectively perform in a moot court competition in the Spring. Broadly, this program is intended to get students excited about legal principles and ideas and expose them to the legal field.

How we do it:

Penn Law students teach in various Philadelphia public high schools and prepare students to participate in a Moot Court competition. Following basic legal lessons, in the fall semester Penn Law volunteers educate all high school classes on a Constitutional amendment. In the spring, volunteers will prep their students on a fact pattern that focuses on a legal issue highlighting all the learned principles for the Moot Court Competition. The program culminates with the students competing against their peers from all the participating high schools in a Moot Court Competition hosted at Penn Law.

How to join:

Keep an eye out for an application in the Fall semester! We’ll be at the Pro Bono sign up fair as well. If you have any questions, please email YEP’s 2024-2025 Director Emily Bleiberg (emblei@penncareylaw.upenn.edu).

What skills will I develop:

Community engagement, appellate advocacy, trial strategy, trial prep, classroom management, public speaking, presentation skills.

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