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Villanova Pro Bono Opportunities: Pennsylvania Innocence Project


Students participating in Villanova Law's immersive Pro Bono programs have the chance to gain real-world experience, serve the local community and network with practicing attorneys—all at the same time. 

Among the programs at Villanova Law is the Pennsylvania Innocence Project. Student volunteers help review cases to determine the plausibility of innocence for inmates who may have been wrongfully incarcerated. 

Emily Schrank '18 and Taylor Adams '17, Villanova student liasions for the Pennsylvania Innocence Project, have been inspired by the work done by peers and volunteers, as well as the optimism of the inmates they represent. 

"When I interned at Pennsylvania Innocence Project this past summer, we met with inmates whom the Project was representing at Graterford State Correctional Institution. It was so humbling to meet with men that were claiming wrongful conviction, and had already spent over ten years in prison for crimes they likely did not commit. Their resilience and positive attitude was remarkable," Schrank remarked.

Similarly, Adams recalled that her greatest learning experience was also her greatest challenge.

"Visiting clients in prison and talking to them about their case was very interesting and informative, but also challenging. It takes some practice in order to learn the right questions to ask, and what follow up questions to ask in order to get the whole story out. It was a challenge learning how to effectively interview clients, but ended up being very rewarding." Adams remarked.

Backed with their Villanova Law education, Schrank and Adams cited legal writing and research as giving them a boost outside of the classroom.

"Villanova Law allows a lot of opportunities for experiential learning, which was one of the reasons I was drawn to the school in the first place. The school places a lot of emphasis on externships and clinics to complement what is learned in the classroom," Adams said. 

About the Pennsylvania Innocence Project

Created in 2008, the Pennsylvania Innocence Project was launched in partnership with students from Villanova Law in April 2009. Today, the Project has heard from over 5,000 convicted individuals and receives over 500 new letters per year. Some of the major accomplishments the Project has saw in the past 8 years include: 

  • Secured release from incarceration and exoneration for 4 Pennsylvanians who had served a combined 67 years in prison
  • Represented 2 individuals who were released from prison after accepting negotiated "Alford" pleas to reduce charges
  • Secured new trials for 2 wrongfully convicted individuals
  • Negotiated and advocated for a new sentence of immediate parole for a client serving a mandatory life sentence imposed when he was a juvenile
  • Filled amicus briefs in the United States Supreme Court, Third Circuit Court of Appeals, Pennsylvania Supreme Court, and Superior Court of Pennsylvania advancing critical issues of criminal justice reform affecting the convicted innocent.