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Fourteen years ago, U.S. District Court in Philadelphia launched a reentry program to address recidivism for those leaving prison after convictions for violent crime. We used evidence-based practices to help men and women break the cycle of violent crime and resume law-abiding lives in our community. It worked.
More than 400 returning citizens have spent at least a year in our reentry program, and for those who complete the program, less than 10% have committed new crimes and returned to prison. The other 90% are now your neighbors: chefs, delivery workers, Realtors, union members, students, and office workers. They mentor schoolkids, pay taxes, and save us the $40,000 per year it costs to keep a person in federal prison.
Research taught us that a swift judicial response to potential criminal lapses soon after release from prison prevented recidivism. We combined that approach with mental health counseling, job assistance, safe housing, family support, tutoring, and health care to break the cycle of violent crime. Our successes far exceed the failures.
The federal reentry program features two teams of prosecutors, defense lawyers, probation officers, judges, and others who meet biweekly with about 40 returning citizens to help them navigate the return from prison. Accountability is the key and staying crime-free is the goal. A groundbreaking program with the Drexel University psychology department provides counseling to address criminal thinking patterns, and Temple’s Fox Business School and Clarifi, a credit counseling agency, offer financial advice and rental subsidies. A host of community partners, featuring local law schools, private industry, labor unions, and the local housing authority provide ongoing support.
A local criminal justice scholar, Caitlin Taylor at La Salle University, has studied our program for 14 years and identified the evidence-based practices that work. Her work is recognized nationally but apparently ignored locally. Our reentry program has been replicated in some form by nearly each of the 94 federal judicial districts. Philadelphia can do the same.
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