HARRISBURG – April 9, 2019 – State Senator Art Haywood (D-Montgomery/Philadelphia) and State Senator Sharif Street (D-Philadelphia) joined Villanova University’s Film Department, John Pace, and Tyrone Werts for a press conference and screening of The Mayor of Graterford. The film explores the history of Life without Parole in the Commonwealth and follows the lives of John Pace and Tyrone Werts on their journey to redemption. The program included: raising awareness to ending life without parole, the conditions of older inmates aging in place without a chance for parole, and reducing the prison population. A musical presentation by nonprofit organization Songs in the Key of Life followed the screening.
“Pennsylvania is one of the six cruelest states with a life without parole sentence,” said Senator Haywood. “There is no reason for someone to stay in prison 20, 30, or 50 years after they have been rehabilitated. Pennsylvania needs redemption.”
“Humanity must be a core element of how we administer criminal justice. Moreover, our expenditures on the criminal justice system are unsustainable,” said Senator Street. “Our examination of the legacy of life without parole in Pennsylvania, explored the humanity on those within our correctional facilities and continues to underscore the need to empower the parole board to review life sentences in our Commonwealth.”
“I believe it is important to raise awareness about life without parole in PA, because similar to myself, I believe people can and do change, and should have the opportunity to redeem themselves.” said John Pace, a former juvenile lifer.
“Every human being is capable of change and in that instance, they deserve mercy.” said Tyrone Werts, commuted lifer.
“We hope the film shows the impact a 1994 political decision had on the lifer prison population as well as demonstrating the need to reevaluate that decision 25 years later,” said Dr. Stephen McWilliams of Villanova’s Film Department. “It is also our intention to generate discussions on common sense prison reform that is sensible and that isn’t a threat to public safety. Certainly, reforming the Life Without Parole policy is a first step.”
“Songs in the Key of Free is a nonprofit that challenges mass incarceration through collaborative arts practice,” said August Tarrier of Songs in the Key of Free. “Our video ‘Just One Victory,’ filmed inside SCI-Graterford, is their vote for SB 135—for many of them, abolishing life without parole is their only chance to avoid dying in prison.”
Senator Street has introduced legislation to end life in prison in the Commonwealth. Senator Haywood serves as Co-Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Reform Caucus and supports the end of life without parole in Pennsylvania.