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In Pennsylvania, life means life without the possibility of parole (“LWOP”) or “death by incarceration.” Although executive commutation offers long serving rehabilitated lifers hope of release, in the past 20 years, only 8 commutations have been granted by the state’s governors. This article describes the collaboration between an organization of incarcerated persons serving LWOP and the law-school-based Penn Program on Documentaries and the Law that produced a video supporting increased commutations for Pennsylvania lifers. The article details the methodology of collaborative videomaking employed, the strategic decisions over content that were impacted by the politics of commutation, and the contributions of visual criminology to the video’s portrayal of the lifers who participated in the project.

The documentary can be viewed at


Criminal justice policy, sentencing, commutation power, Pennsylvania, documentary filmmaking, visual legal advocacy, visual criminology, legal & visual ethics, Lifers Inc., SCI Graterford

Publication Title

University of Pennsylvania Journal of Law & Social Change

Publication Citation

22 U. Pa. J. L. & Soc. Change 71 (2019)