Newsletter Vol 3 No 2
February 2021
** Over 1000 people read this newsletter every month! **

If everyone contributed $100 (which not everyone can), we could hire TWO more staff.
Help us reach our BHAG of 2000 pardon applications per year!
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Because social justice requires social action.
KUDOS TO THE BOP! Stats that are Simply Amazing  
PA’s Board of Pardons continues setting new records. Its Official Website (see chart) provides 21 years of data. In 2020, the Board simply demolished all earlier records! It reviewed hundreds of applications more than ever before, awarded hearings to 88% of pardon applicants, and recommended a staggering 86.7% of them to the Governor!

What’s more, the Board has started 2021 at an even higher pace: in its first “Merit Review” session of the year (in February), it considered 190 pardon applications (portending maybe 800 per year) and voted to award hearings to 178– a record 93.7%! And perhaps most amazing of all: 127 of the 178 were approved 5-0 – meaning that most of the 127 won't even have to attend the public hearing next month.

In just two years, the Board has morphed from being just another part of the punishment system to being a national leader in restorative justice, rewarding rehabilitation with restoration of opportunity, and giving hope to tens of thousands. Just one word to describe it. Wow!
PLSE Publishes First-Ever Study on People Sentenced to Life in PA Prison for Second Degree Murder
"What this study does so effectively,” said Claire Shubik-Richards, ED of The Prison Society, “is take the argument about mandatory life sentences out of the realm of politics or social philosophy (like being ‘hard’ or ‘soft’ on crime) and reduce it to hard numbers, costs and benefits.” Ashley Nellis, Ph.D., Senior Research Analyst for The Sentencing Project (Washington, DC), agreed: “Hopefully these findings will be read far and wide by lawmakers and other decisionmakers, not just in Pennsylvania but around the country, and mandatory LWOP [life without parole] policies will be sentenced to the dustbin of history.”

These are the first reviews of Life Without Parole for Second-Degree Murder in Pennsylvania: An Objective Assessment of Sentencing (January 2021), the third pathbreaking study that PLSE has published within the past seven months. The study was commissioned by Lt. Governor John Fetterman, Chair of the Board of Pardons, in November 2019, and released by him on February 12, 2021 -- the very same day that Governor Wolf commuted the sentences of 13 people who had been serving life sentences.

The second-degree murder statute applies to anyone convicted of a felony in which someone died (whether by intention or by complete accident), including those who were merely present (like being the lookout or driver of the car) or otherwise complicit (like planning the crime). For all of those convicted of this crime, the mandatory sentence is prison until they die – a result that is not shared by those who were more responsible, but negotiated and pled guilty to a lesser crime. The study revealed that over 70% of those convicted were younger than 25 at the time of the crime; that almost half are today older than 50, when there is almost no risk they will commit another crime; and that most have already served more time in prison than the maximum sentences the others could have received.

The report – “meticulous in its design and clear in its findings” – was written by Andrea Lindsay, MSW, PLSE’s first Mitigation Specialist and Lead Researcher, who joined PLSE last April. PA’s Attorney General Josh Shapiro has the last word: “The findings in this report support the call I have made on the General Assembly to change the law so that second degree murder is not an automatic life sentence and to provide additional sentencing options.” From your lips...

Click here to read Lt. Governor Fetterman’s press release.

Click here to read the report.

And a word of sincere thanks: Those of you who read our first report, on the recidivism of pardon applicants, will notice the professional way this report was produced and presented. That is thanks to two wonderful volunteer graphic designers who took the report from words on a page to an inviting manuscript with the key points easily understood. Our sincere thanks to Robb Leef (who, in real life, is Associate Creative Director at DiD Agency) and Ed Looram (Director of Project Management for Digitas Health LifeBrands), who started volunteering with PLSE last August. You guys are terrific. Thank you!!!
Filmmaker/Producer (and Mike Lee Fellow) Shuja Moore releases third “Walkie”
In prison, a “walkie” is your friend, your confidant, advisor and companion. You walk around the housing unit with them, and to the chow hall. They are the people that you spend your time with. Learning the term while serving his sentence for third degree murder, Shuja Moore (PLSE’s second Mike Lee Fellow) uses it now as the title of the video series he is producing that proves the possibility of reformation and the potential for forgiveness.

Sydia Bagley today runs a successful catering company and hosts an annual event recognizing returning citizens who have done good in their community. In this, the third episode of the series, she tells the story of a past trauma that led her into a life of crime, and how an unlikely program in prison helped her cope and turned her life around. Like Shuja’s first two Walkies, “Healed People Heal People” will soon be available in PLSE’s video library.

Click here to watch it now.

Visit to learn more about Shuja and his films, or contact him directly at
United Way Honors Business Leader, and PLSE, with Fellowship in Criminal Justice
Gordon Cooney is a senior partner at Morgan Lewis, an internationally-acclaimed commercial litigator, and a long-time leader of the United Way of Greater Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. When he stepped down recently as the United Way’s Board Chair, it chose to highlight his long career of service that included successfully representing, and exonerating, a man on death row. In his honor, it established the J. Gordon Cooney Fellowship in Criminal Justice at PLSE! Twice each year, someone who has been justice-involved and demonstrated a commitment to community will receive a $10,000 cash award to work with PLSE and be embedded in a United Way agency, to help organize communities around pardons and expungements. The first Cooney Fellow is Akeem Sims, who met Gordon while working at Morgan, and he will be working at Diversified Community Services, one of PLSE’s very first Pardon Hubs, in Point Breeze.
Beth Am Israel Affiliates with PLSE following MLK Day Program
On January 18, Beth Am Israel (“BAI”) held its fifth annual Martin Luther King, Jr., Day of Service – a day-long series of programs that, this year, included several discussions on criminal justice reform, restorative justice, forgiveness and reconciliation. One of the topics was “Pardons in PA: Understanding the Problem, Being Part of the Solution.” Placing the secular pardon power (which came to America with William Penn) in the context of religious values and traditions, and noting the pursuit of justice is common to both, PLSE’s Executive Director Tobey Oxholm spoke about how everyone can help build a more just society, especially after all of the pardon reforms that have occurred over the past two years. The presentation was so well received that BAI voted earlier this month to formally affiliate with PLSE. It will be offering training for Pardon Coaches, and beginning to connect Coaches with clients, on April 18. Watch this space for updates!

Click here to watch Tobey’s presentation.
100 Attend Pardon Coach Update, Hear Breaking News from the BOP Secretary
As you’ve been reading, the Board of Pardons has been fundamentally revising the pardon process, putting PA on the cutting edge of pardon reform in the country. On February 16, BOP Secretary Brandon Flood helped lead a 90-minute update on the changes that the Board has made and a “refresher” on what makes for the best pardon application. Perhaps the most exciting of several “breaking news” stories: the Board is creating new “fast tracks”, including applications (1) for crimes where the convictions are more than 20 years old, and (2) that are supported by the District Attorneys in the counties were the convictions were obtained.

The program was attended by 100 people who had already been trained as Pardon Coaches, and has been posted in the Pardon Coach Toolkit (password: people-change!)
This Month's Tip
Get those applications in ASAP! Do NOT wait for every possible letter of reference, turn-down letter, or certificate. At the Pardon Coach Update, the Secretary invited all PLSE Pardon Coaches and their clients to send updates and additional supplementary materials directly to him, via PDF and email, Just be sure to include the Application No. you’ll receive when the BOP acknowledges receipt. He will make sure the additional information gets to the file.
Words from our Supporters and Partners
This month, we are proud to include notes we received from three people, linked to the above stories:

  • Bill Madway, following the BAI presentation on MLK Day: “thank you for your outstanding presentation and your service to the community. It was a very informative and meaningful workshop. Your work is so righteous and vital. So glad I attended.”
  • Robb Leaf, graphic design volunteer for the PLSE report released earlier this month by Lt. Gov. Fetterman: “Collaborating and ideating on this has been a rewarding experience and has given me a better understanding of these complex issues. I appreciate the opportunity to contribute.”
  • Chrissie Klinger, Workforce Development Specialist, who attended a presentation given to the PA Department of Higher Education: “The adult education community really appreciated the information and we are looking forward to using the resources to help adults in Pennsylvania know about pardons and complete the paperwork properly.” 
Three Ways You Can Help:

  1. If you missed it and have been trained as a Pardon Coach, watch the Pardon Coach Update and Refresher posted in the Pardon Coach Toolkit.
  2. Become a Pardon Coach – with a new system now in place that makes referrals even easier to accept, we will be scheduling new trainings starting in March. Watch for them on our Events page.
  3. Contribute (of course!): the demand for our services is exploding (a great thing!) and we need additional staff to help those with criminal records, manage our Fellows, obtain the requisite records from court, and assist our growing number of volunteers.  

Stay energized, optimistic and healthy,
Tobey Oxholm
Executive Director
Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity
1501 Cherry Street Philadelphia, PA 19102
(267) 519-5323