Every day, an average of 87 prisoners from the Philadelphia County Jail are released back into Philadelphia. For many of those freed, their return to jail is inevitable. The risk of returning to prison greatly increases without the aid of a reintegration agency or service.
Early last year, The Philly Rising Collaborative, a city agency which focuses on community-building, found many of Haddington’s residents were concerned about the lack of services and programs available to ex-offenders in the area.
Access to reentry agencies and services plays a large role in an ex-offender’s future once released from prison, but what happens in neighborhoods like Haddington where these support systems are not available?
Generally, reintegration agencies help ease the transition of an ex-offender back into society, often starting the process before the release of an ex-offender. Services commonly include finding housing, GED training, job search assistance, job training and access to community or city-wide resources.
While recidivism is largely predicted by access to reintegration services, there are other factors that might cause an individual to return to criminal activity.
An individual’s criminal history, security level assignment while in prison and treatment by drug courts also foretell the possibility the ex-individual will recidivate, according to the National Institute of Justice.
In Philadelphia County, the estimated rate of recidivism is between 55 percent and 60 percent, Shawn Hawes, spokesperson for the Philadelphia Prison System, said.
Reintegration agencies may not be available in Haddington, but pre-release programs and city-wide agencies exist to help fill that gap. For example, the Philadelphia Prisons System, which operates six correctional facilities, provides several services to its prisoners pre-release.
“At the PPS we offer almost 80 vocational, educational and chaplaincy programs. They include life skills and soft skills. Some inmates are mandated to participate, most are not,” Hawes said. “We offer Pre-GED, GED testing, horticultural, mural arts, and culinary training to name a few. We also have parenting classes, anger management classes and classes.”
With a population of about 1.5 million residents, an estimated 1,500 of Philadelphia residents are released from federal prisons each year, William Hart, director of the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services for Ex-Offenders, said.
An additional 5,000 are released from state prisons and county lockup averages an estimate of 30,000 releases per year, Hart said.
Taking a conservative guess, Hart estimated that 200,000 Philadelphia residents have criminal convictions.
Located at 34 South 11th St., RISE is the city’s lead agency for reentry. The agency works to integrate current prisoners and ex-offenders who have been released anywhere between one day to five years into Philadelphia’s workforce.
Many of the agency’s clients are from North Philadelphia, the Kensington/Frankford area and West Philadelphia, Hart said.
In addition to those services, RISE works with a network of city organizations and non-profits to address issues outside of the agency’s capability. Once ex-offenders enter the office on the sixth floor of the Municipal Court building, they are aided by a team of case managers, trainers and lawyers who prepare their clients for employment. Lawyers work to expunge any arrests that did not lead to a conviction from their client’s records.
When clients enter rise, they are assigned a case manager who works with them for up to a year. Clients are also placed in a seven week program, during which they are taught computer literacy, life skills and job readiness, Wallace Custis, manager of training at RISE, said.
Unemployment plays a role in the rate of recidivism.
More than 80 percent of offenders who violated their probation or parole were unemployed, the Corrections Connection Network News found in a study by the New York Department of Labor.
While employment is one of ultimate end goals of many reintegration agencies, criminal convictions often act as a barrier to an ex-offender’s success.
Although reintegration agencies do not exist for residents in Haddington, there are employment based agencies that connect residents with potential employers. ACHIEVEability is one of these organizations.
Temple University graduate and ACHIEVEability Director of of Community Services Najah Famous stressed the need for reentry services in Haddington.
“Many of our residents have criminal histories, which have interferred with their employment or even filling out job applications,” Famous said.
On April 13, 2011, Philadelphia passed “Ban the Box,” also known as the Federal Criminal Records Screening Standard Ordinance, which prevents employers from inquiring about an interviewee’s criminal record on an application. However, the ordinance does not prohibit an employer from asking the question in person. RISE works to help its clients successfully navigate that question.
David Robinson, a post-release facilitator at RISE, leads a three week job readiness training course which exposes ex-offenders to the possible realities of the job interview. During Robinson’s course, clients are placed front of a group of their peers and experience a mock interview. The group, along with Robinson, provides constructive feedback.
“The expectation that there is going to be this 180 degree turn from something you have been doing for the last 20 years of your life is not realistic,” Robinson said. “The reality of it is that you’re going to be interviewing with people who really don’t care about you and their job is to deselect as many people as possible.”
Ex-offenders must also understand if they are selected for an interview, it is their resume which got them there, Robinson said.
“Now you have to be able to go in there and talk about your skills, your strengths and why you are the best candidate for the job,” Robinson said.
“I bring the experience, because I have been down that same road. I can also bring things from an employer’s perspective because of my vast experience working in workforce development and sharing that with the hopes that clients will buy into it and will try something different,” Robinson said.
Yet without adequate support and opportunities, the rate of recidivism rises among county, state and federally released ex-offenders alike. The concentration of reintegration agencies within Center City also negatively affects overlooked areas like Haddington.