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Investing in Returning Citizens is An Investment In Our Community

The Philadelphia Tribune: Renée Cardwell Hughes - September 15, 2020

The United States has the highest incarceration rate in the world. According to the Sentencing Project, a public policy and advocacy organization, there are 2.2 million people in the nation’s prisons and jails. This represents a 500% increase in incarceration over the last 40 years.

Pennsylvania is not immune to mass incarceration. On any given day, more than 25,000 people are incarcerated in Pennsylvania’s prisons and it costs taxpayers $45,286 per inmate annually. Equally as significant, two-thirds of all African- American men nationwide between the ages of 18 and 34 are under the jurisdiction of the criminal justice system. This means that these men are either incarcerated, on parole or on probation.

The reality is that we all know someone who has been touched by the criminal justice system. Most people serve their time, pay their debt to society, and are eventually released. Unfortunately, these citizens frequently return to the community without the skills needed for success and will fall back into the system — often in less than nine months.

The Manhattan Institute in conjunction with America Works conducted a study in 2017 to determine the impact that employment has on recidivism. It concluded that the sooner ex-offenders are employed, the less likely they will commit future crimes. The study documented a 20% reduction in returning to a life of crime when non-violent offenders are employed.

Returning citizens must address a host of social and life challenges including finding transitional and ultimately permanent housing, family reunification, drugs and alcohol, and behavioral health treatment, as well as basic necessities such as food and access to health care.

The key to a successful transition into the community includes the opportunity to acquire the education and job training necessary for self-sufficiency and success. Evidenced-based re-entry workforce development programs coupled with supportive social services are imperative for returning citizens to succeed.

Evidence-based workforce training programs equip returning citizens with the skills and support needed to become productive, gainfully employed members of the community. These programs are especially helpful for returning citizens to reacclimate into society because such programs provide the resources for people to support themselves and their families, critical life skills including financial and digital literacy, job training, and access to job opportunities.

Finding stable employment is essential to the success of returning citizens. Workforce development programs open doors to employment opportunities that would otherwise be closed. Involvement with the criminal justice system can make finding work after imprisonment challenging and sometimes impossible without a support system.

Philadelphia OIC is a proven leader in supporting return citizens. Philadelphia OIC will assist 350 returning citizens in the next three years to successfully transition into society with education, life skills, job training and placement.

Our goal is to help justice-involved individuals make a successful transition into the community by helping them to change their lives and become productive, responsible, law-abiding citizens with the skills to rise out of deep poverty.

Philadelphia OIC meets the individual where they are and helps them to resolve barriers to success. Integral to the effectiveness of Philadelphia OIC’s programs is the development of critical thinking and the skills necessary to navigate life and workplace challenges.

Equally as important, we work closely with our employer partners to provide participants with opportunities for jobs after they complete the program. We advocate on their behalf and continue to work with participants to ensure that they have a fighting chance to succeed.

Returning citizens are often marginalized for their past mistakes and are restricted from becoming contributing citizens in society. These returning citizens want normalcy and a second chance.

We must focus on assisting returning citizens as well as those who are unemployed, underemployed, homeless or disadvantaged. When we invest in those who need a second or even a third chance at life, we are investing in the future of America.

America does not have the luxury of throwing away 2.2 million people. Pennsylvania cannot afford it; Philadelphia cannot afford it. Expanding opportunity for those most in need will reduce poverty and decrease crime. Helping returning citizens become productive, self-reliant, contributing members of the community is an investment that benefits us all.

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