March 21, 2018
By Ebonee Johnson
Two years in the making and the numbers have arrived from the criminal justice collective. What’s been the hold up and what does it all mean?
It’s a new era of accountability for Philadelphia’s criminal justice collective — and for the 25,000 individuals who return to the city from prison and jail every year.
On Wednesday, March 14, members of the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition(PRC) gathered at the Office of the District Attorney for its quarterly stakeholder meeting. Most was business as usual. Award announcements were made in preparation for Philadelphia’s Reentry Awareness Month in June, and coalition members with formerly incarcerated people in leadership were highlighted.
One huge differing detail this time around? The release and review of the coalition’s report, “Calculating a Unified Recidivism Rate for Philadelphia,” which includes reentry data from 2012 to 2015, alongside an easily navigable data portal from the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Open Data and Digital Transformation.
Some fast stats:
Of the approximate 25,000 people released to Philadelphia, 66 percent were Black, 85 percent were male and the majority were under 40 years old.
ZIP code 19134 saw the most people returning post-incarceration: 1,901.
In 2015, 33.9 percent of those released were re-arrested within a year.
The report comes several years after the 2016 kickoff of the PRC’s Home for Good initiative — a five-year plan to improve Philadelphia’s reentry process and reduce recidivism by 25 percent — after being announced in 2015 and is perhaps the org’s first coherent statistical offering to the public in its two years of existence.
But what took so long?
“Every few months I thought we were ready and we weren’t,” said Coalition Director Aviva Tevah. “A lot of what we do is information sharing, it’s informal, it’s relationship building. Being able to show a product is important in feeling like the collaboration is worth it.”
Tevah cedes that the birth of Home for Good meant a reorganization of the coalition’s structure. Because two separate coalition entities merged to become one, much work, energy and time had to be dedicated to establishing new subcommittees and leadership before the PRC could move forward. Historically, individual organizations have only analyzed recidivism metrics as they pertained to their own specific agency.
This collective work was “an important symbol of power,” Tevah said.
Generocity initially met the coalition’s goals — quantifiable, yet with no data to back it up — with cynicism. In addition to the disbelief that orgs usually competing for the same scant resources could amiably work together, former reporter Tony Abraham expressed that this criminal justice congregation — sans concrete data and feasible plans — was “little more than a horse and pony show.”
A more thorough understanding of Tevah’s background and motive has since caused Abraham to revise his previous stance, and PRC has since gotten to work on developing baseline info.
To get there, individual agencies and subcommittees were tasked with working together to decide on exactly which definitions were most pertinent, and which metrics to use.
At the stakeholder meeting, PRC’s co-chair of the data and metrics subcommittee and director of the state Department of Corrections Bureau of Planning, Research and Statistics, Brett Bucklen, announced that, first, PRC had needed to decide on a collective definition for recidivism: the percentage of people released from Philadelphia Department of Prisons(PDP) or Pennsylvania Department of Corrections to the Philadelphia area who are re-arrested within one year — not counting parole violations.
“No single measure of recidivism is that great,” Tevah said. “No matter which one you pick there’s reasons why it’s limited.”
Much of what was used to determine the recidivism definition and included in the report was simply a matter of availability. Bucklen works closely with the state police and could get his hands on re-arrest info. Data about parole violations, re-incarceration and re-conviction — not so easily procured. The numbers reflect no citizens returning from the federal system because, according to Tevah, “they just have more stringent sharing rules.”
Notably, however, those returning from the federal system only reflect 2 percent of the total population of people returning to Philadelphia who were charged with criminal, non-summary type offenses in the adult criminal justice system. The PRC recidivism data effort encompasses a whopping 98 percent of that group.
There’s still so much work to do.
For the PRC and those trying to effect change within the reentry and recidivism realm, the publishing of the report, at the very least, means less abstraction. The Home for Good plan aims for a 25 percent reduction in recidivism by 2020 (reporting in 2021), and before the metrics were available, that number held little weight.
“We didn’t know what that meant, and now we do,” Tevah said. “If we were to be successful in that reduction, that would mean 2,000 fewer people rearrested in that one-year period.”