Female wrongful incarceration is growing exponentially. The Philadelphia Justice Project is helping to correct this problem.
Founded in 2020 by Villanova Sociology and Criminology Professor Jill McCorkel, the Philly Justice Project is a nonprofit organization with a Villanova student-run chapter. Started in the Spring of 2021, the Villanova chapter is centered around the goal of both helping and advocating for wrongfully incarcerated women and girls. With more than 50 members and a seven-person executive board, club members look at specific cases of two types: appeals cases, which deal with wrongfully convicted women, and commutation cases, which deal with women looking for a pardon on their sentence.
At Villanova, the club has six committees for members to be a part of. The casework committee does investigative research on the cases. Those in the commutation committee help proofread applications for women who are attempting to pardon their sentences. To help promote the club’s social media presence, the publications committee makes social media posts for events. There is also a finance committee and a legislative research committee that looks out for current events or legislation that could affect cases. For those with less experience who still want to be involved, President Lydia Becker recommends the support team.
“The support team comes to the events that we have, helps promote our social media and gives feedback,” Becker said. “That’s typically younger members who haven’t had a sociology or criminology class.”
Philly Justice Project is trying to expand its presence on campus. Although there are no events coming up for PJP this semester, it is planning on hosting a panel with wrongfully incarcerated individuals.
Becker has a long history with professor Dr. McCorkel. As for getting involved with PJP, Becker was invited to be a part of a new internship program founded by McCorkel that focused on wrongfully incarcerated women.
“Over the Summer of 2020, I worked directly with incarcerated women and a few other Villanova students,” Becker said. “That ran while she was establishing the non-profit, and I pitched to her the idea of making it a student organization.”
Through this internship, Becker was able to gain real-life experience with incarcerated women and was inspired to bring it to Villanova. Currently, Villanova is the only college with a PJP chapter, but there are hopes to expand throughout Philadelphia and potentially the East Coast.
An important aspect of PJP that sets it apart from other social justice organizations is the feminist focus that is not usually seen in the prison reform movement. Many times, the focus for helping those wrongfully incarcerated is on males, but PJP is attempting to overcome this stereotype by working directly with women.
“The incarcerated women are the fastest-growing segment of the incarcerated population,” Becker said. “This is because all of the efforts to decrease incarceration have been geared towards decreasing men’s incarceration.”
The Philly Justice Project is giving a voice and advocacy to a group that historically has not been given the opportunity to do so for themselves. Through its direct work with incarcerated women and powerful leadership by McCorkel, the Philadelphia Justice Project at Villanova is actively working to help build a better community for all.
While PJP is not currently accepting applications for new members, there will be applications next school year. In the meantime, you can keep up to date with current political news in the area and all things Philadelphia Justice Project through their Instagram account @phillyjusticeproject.