Wells Fargo is gearing up to launch a program designed to boost Philadelphia’s rate of homeownership.
The nation’s largest home mortgage lender has partnered with nonprofit NeighborWorks America to launch the CityLIFT program, an initiative designed to provide down payment assistance and homebuyer education programs in areas most impacted by the financial crisis.
Vince Liuzzi, Wells Fargo’s regional president for Greater Philadelphia and Delaware says CityLIFT was created to help address the excessive housing inventory crisis facing many cities around the nation.
“At Wells Fargo, we want to do more to help stabilize neighborhoods — and in particular to help ease the housing inventory situation,” Liuzzi said during a press conference held Thursday afternoon in Philadelphia’s Strawberry Mansion neighborhood.
“The demand for rental property for displaced homeowners, combined with a stalled housing market has forced home prices down. Wells Fargo is pleased to announce the launch of a program that will help boost the housing market in the city of Philadelphia, and put people in homes that they can afford.”
The new initiative is modeled after Wells Fargo’s successful NeighborhoodLIFT program — which was the first of its kind in the banking industry. Philadelphia is one of 20 cities that will benefit from a total of $170 million Wells Fargo has committed to support housing in cities affected by the economic downturn. The initiative is accompanied by a five-year lending goal of $2.2 billion for Philadelphia homebuyers.
Through CityLIFT, applicants can apply for up to $15,000 in down payment assistance grants, and tap into homebuyers education programs.
NeighborWorks America nonprofit affiliate New Kensington Community Development Corporation will determine income eligibility and help prospective homebuyers reserve down payment assistance grants and receive homeownership education. Since January, NeighborWorks has worked with Wells Fargo to bring LIFT programs to 10 cities around the country. The LIFT programs have helped create 263 new homeowners to date, with another 244 potential new homeowners in process of closing on a home.
“We are so proud that Wells Fargo has invited NeighborWorks to be a partner with them in CityLIFT, and Wells Fargo knows that a prepared homeowner is a successful homeowner. Successful homeowners build secure neighborhoods and revitalize communities such as this one — and this is our goal,” said Deborah Boatwright, Northeast regional director of NeighborWorks America.
To qualify for up to $15,000 in down payment assistance, applicants’ must be approved for home financing. An applicant’s household income cannot exceed 120 percent of area median income. For example, the annual household income for a family of four cannot exceed $97,800. Participating homebuyers must attend an eight-hour homeownership education class with a HUD-approved counselor and make a commitment to stay in the home for five years. Homebuyers can obtain mortgage financing from any lender.
“Philadelphia has a long proud tradition of homeownership, and that’s one of the things that makes our neighborhoods so vibrant. We know that homeownership is important to stabilizing neighborhoods in Philadelphia,” said Shanta Schachter, deputy director, New Kensington CDC.
Mayor Michael Nutter and Councilman Darrell Clarke were on hand to thank Wells Fargo for bringing the CityLIFT program to Philadelphia.
“This program is a continuation of ongoing efforts by our city to strengthen neighborhoods and provide quality and affordable housing for our residents,” said Nutter.
“This collaboration with Wells Fargo and local nonprofits will offer residents not only new opportunities to own a home, but also the knowledge and resources to be successful in this important investment.”
CityLIFT will officially launch during a free homebuyer workshop on September 21 and 22 from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, Hall D, 1101 Arch St.
Workshop attendees can apply for up to $15,000 in down payment assistance funding to purchase a home in Philadelphia. During the event, prospective homebuyers visit a viewing center to preview featured homes for sale in Philadelphia neighborhoods. A free bus tour will be offered from noon to 5 p.m. each day to view featured homes available for sale throughout Philadelphia.
Register for the upcoming workshop by visiting www.mycitylift or call 1(866) 802-0456. Preregistration is preferred. Walk-ins will be accepted.
Mother of five killed in Grays Ferry
The manhunt is on for a second suspect in the killing of a Grays Ferry woman who was just standing on her porch when gunfire exploded on the 1500 block of Corlies Street on Friday, April 20.
Clarice Douglas, 45, a mother of five, was standing on her front porch waiting for her children to come home from school when she was caught in the crossfire between two young Black males at 2:30 p.m. Law enforcement authorities have issued an arrest warrant for Shekinah Williams, a 28-year-old Black male from the 2100 block of Sears Street, and the Citizen’s Crime Commission is offering a $5,000 reward for information leading to his arrest and conviction. Investigators allege that Williams was involved in a shootout with another Hakeem Burley, 23, who was wounded in the exchange of gunfire that left Douglas dead from multiple gunshot wounds.
Police recovered a .45 caliber handgun and 18 shell casings from the scene.
Williams and Burley are no strangers to law enforcement. In 2000, Williams was 17 and pleaded guilty to robbery, possessing an instrument of crime and criminal conspiracy, and was sentenced to four to eight years in prison. A few months before, he was arrested for aggravated assault, recklessly endangering another person, weapons offenses and simple assault. In 2008, he pleaded guilty to marijuana possession. At age 16, in 2004, Burley was arrested for robbery, burglary, weapons offenses, recklessly endangering another person, terroristic threats and related charges.
Douglas is just the latest victim of gun violence in South Philadelphia. On March 21, two children having fun inside a playground were wounded when they were caught in the crossfire between two other young Black males with guns. Fortunately, their wounds were not fatal. The day before, on March 20 there was a double shooting at 3:30 p.m. at the intersection of 5th and Pierce streets that left two men wounded.
“Regarding this recent shooting, we have one person being held and we recovered a gun. We have some direction on the second suspect. As for the other recent incidents, there could be a lot of things causing the violence in that part of town,” said Philadelphia Police Commissioner Charles Ramsey. “It could be disputes between different gangs, but it doesn’t have to be. It could be something as simple as looking at another person in the wrong way, or an argument over a female. Basically, there is no shortage of thugs with guns who are not afraid to fire over any dispute. It can even be a spur of the moment thing.”
On March 29, police say a 24-year-old man was shot twice in the buttocks just before 2 a.m. at 26th and Jackson streets. The victim was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in stable condition. A few days before, on March 21, two children were wounded by gunfire at Sach’s Playground at 4th Street and Washington Avenue. Investigators believe that shooting was touched of by an earlier incident in the vicinity.
On March 20, police were called to the vicinity of 5th and Pierce streets in response to a double shooting that also happened in the afternoon, this time around 3:30 p.m. Two males were taken to Thomas Jefferson University Hospital in stable condition. On March 30, a 19-year-old woman was shot in the abdomen just before 11:30 p.m. in the 1200 block of South 13th Street. Surveillance cameras captured images of the suspect, a young Black male in his teens or early twenties demanding money. The woman tried to defend herself with mace.
Club Onyx, at 2900 South Columbus Boulevard has been the scene of several shootings and robberies in recent months. The last one happened on February 23 when a man was critically shot outside the strip club in the early morning hours. The suspect, 25-year-old Kyle Carter, was arrested a few days later. According to police, Carter was involved an argument with the victim, who died from his wounds a week later. During the argument Carter allegedly took out a gun and shot the victim in the neck.
“There are combinations of different causes behind this senseless bloodshed,” said Philadelphia City Councilman Kenyatta Johnson, who lives in the district. “Many times these are petty disputes that rise to the level of violence. Some of the reports I’ve seen indicate drug turf wars in some instances, but all of it has a negative impact on the community — and most of the victims are young Black males. This last murder has left five children without their mother, and I was just down in the vicinity a couple of weeks ago for another shooting. But the reality is that we cannot give up and just sit on the sidelines; we have to keep working aggressively to change the mindset of these young men. Just today I was at the Youth Study Center, listening to some of the teens on the inside regarding what kind of support and encouragement they need that will help them turn themselves onto a better path. Now they all had suggestions, but one of them stood up and said that what’s really needed are parents who keep a firm hand on them. He said if his parents had really stayed on him about the consequences of his actions, he might have made better decisions.”
At the 9th Annual Summit on Race, Culture and Human Relations, Mayor Michael Nutter said the country’s reaction to Black-on-Black crime is astounding when seen from the perspective of its response to terrorism.
“Black men are becoming an endangered species in America — locked up or dead,” Nutter said. “Crime also breeds upon itself. After serving their time, many of the individuals who are released from our prisons cannot find work, and do not have the training or literacy skills to keep a job. And so, these folks quickly fall back into the criminal lifestyle to make ends meet.”
Mayor Michael Nutter wasted no time in filling one of the seats on the School Reform Commission, naming Wendell E. Pritchett, the chancellor at Rutgers–Camden, to fill a post.
Pritchett joins the SRC at a time when the organization is experiencing major upheaval. On Monday, two members of the embattled SRC — Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr. and Johnny Irizarry — stepped down from their posts.
“I am very pleased to appoint someone with the qualifications, the imagination and the commitment to public education of Wendell Pritchett,” Nutter said in a statement. “He has demonstrated real leadership in the areas of education, local government and sustainable community development for many years.”
Pritchett served as deputy chief of staff and director of policy for Nutter. He was responsible for writing the city’s Five-Year Plan and Budget, reorganizing the city’s anti-poverty programs and managing operations of the mayor’s office, according to Nutter’s statement.
One day ahead of President Barack Obama’s State of the Union Address, Vice President Joe Biden was in Philadelphia on Monday hosting a roundtable discussion advancing the administration’s gun control proposals.
The discussion, which was held at Girard College, took place as Delaware State Police were investigating a deadly shooting that happened inside the lobby of the New Castle Delaware Courthouse in Wilmington, Biden’s home state.
Biden was joined by Mayor Michael Nutter, local law enforcement officials, members of the Pennsylvania congressional delegation and Deputy Attorney General James Cole. Congressmen Chaka Fattah, Bob Brady, Senator Bob Casey and Rep. Allyson Schwartz were also in attendance.
“As mayors of major cities, many of us do all we can to reduce gun violence, but our efforts are too often thwarted by trafficking from other areas and states,” Nutter said following the administration’s outlining of their proposals in January. “The president’s plan would institute background checks nationally and crack down on those who buy guns for the express purpose of turning around and selling them to criminals. It will be an enormous help to us.”
The Obama administration has been pushing for new gun control laws since the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14. Twenty-six people, mostly children, were murdered in the mass shooting.
“How much more bloodshed are we willing to tolerate? There is no need for assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips to be a part of the American civilian stockpile. I wholeheartedly support a ban on assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, and I also support universal background checks for all those lining up to buy weapons of what should be termed weapons of mass destruction,” Brady said at an earlier press conference.
Last week during the House Democratic Issues Conference Biden said that the federal government has a duty to take the lead on this important issue.
“I can't imagine how [the parents] deal with it," Biden said in a published report. “But I can imagine how we will be judged as individuals, judged as a Congress, judged as a nation, if we do not. It's simply unacceptable. The ability, because of all this happening, to misrepresent our positions no longer exists as it did in 1994. The world has changed. The American public has changed. You can go into areas you're told you can't go and politically survive. I'm telling you, the times have changed.”
The Obama administration has outlined several key points in the gun control debate. Requiring criminal background checks for all gun sales, reinstituting the federal ban on assault weapons and a ban on high capacity magazines, a federal gun trafficking law and giving law enforcement additional tools to prevent and prosecute gun crimes.
Philadelphia will host the National Urban League’s 2013 annual conference, announced League president and CEO Marc Morial and Mayor Michael Nutter, on Friday.
The event, which, it is anticipated, will draw more than 4,000 visitors, is expected to generate $8 million in economic activity for the city.
“We will roll out the big red carpet,” Nutter promised Morial, noting that Philadelphia would have to outdo New Orleans, which is hosting the conference in 2012, where Morial was once mayor.
“We’re more than up to it,” joked Nutter. “Philadelphia was the place selected for the first convention just down the street, and you see what happened.”
The conference will be held July 24 – 27 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
Morial told the crowd gathered at City Hall for the announcement that Urban League officials chose Philadelphia for three reasons: the first was the work of Patricia Coulter, president and CEO of the Philadelphia chapter.
“She’s breathed new life into the Philadelphia chapter,” said Morial. “It’s soared to the front of the class. We want to showcase the work that Pat Coulter has done in this city.”
The second was Mayor Michael Nutter.
“He’s a rising star on the national scene,” said Morial.
And, finally, he added: “4,000 plus people are just dying to eat cheese steaks.”
“We are proud that Philadelphia is home to a thriving Urban League affiliate,” Coulter said, who credited her staff for making the chapter what it’s become. “And, our selection to host the 2013 Annual Conference is a very welcome validation of our accomplishments and strategic focus on economic empowerment through public policy advocacy, quality programs and employment opportunities.”
In addition to the events for registered attendees, the conference will host a number of events open to the public. They include: all the exhibits in the exhibition hall, a college fair, a career fair. In addition, the conference will include a youth summit and a business summit.
“This conference is also going to be for the people of Philadelphia,” Morial said, adding that he hoped it would attract residents from throughout the Delaware Valley.
In addition to showcasing the Urban League, the conference will give visitors, many of whom have never been here, a chance to absorb Philadelphia’s art, culture and food, said Nutter, noting that Travel & Leisure magazine recently named Philadelphia the number one city in the country for culture and National Geographic named Capogiro the best ice cream in the world.
“There is no other city in American that has the amenities that we do,” crowed Nutter.
It will also display the city’s potential.
“It will showcase Philadelphia as more than a time machine to the 18th Century,” said Dennis Maple, a local board member.
The National Urban League last held its annual conference in Philadelphia 13 years ago.
Author, founder of Art Sanctuary hailed as ‘asset’
Philadelphia native Lorene Cary, author and founder of the Art Sanctuary, has been appointed to the School Reform Commission.
Her appointment rounds out a commission left with three vacancies following the recent resignations of Chairman Robert L. Archie Jr., and member Johnny Irizarry. A third vacancy remains as Pedro Ramos, appointed by Gov. Tom Corbett earlier this year, awaits approval by the state Senate.
Mayor Michael Nutter announced Cary’s appointment late Monday afternoon in a statement released by his press secretary.
“Lorene Cary is a nationally recognized writer, she has a tremendous education background, but for me what is truly outstanding is that she has an incredible passion for the well-being of children; she cares very personally about parents and she’s very much focused on supporting teachers,” Nutter said. “She will be a tremendous asset to the School Reform Commission and the children of Philadelphia.”
Cary could not be reached for comment, but was quoted in the mayor’s announcement.
“My parents were both Philadelphia public school teachers; I attended elementary school here; our children have spent about half their school life in District schools; and as a writer and arts organization director, I’ve worked with schools and with kids, parents and grandparents who know that a good education is their only real hope for success,” she said. “I am grateful to be called to serve them on this committed and talented team.”
The appointment was praised by the state Secretary of Education Ron Tomalis.
“I believe her experience will be beneficial to the school district and the commission,” he said. “I look forward to working with her and her colleagues in the coming months as we address many of the critical issues facing the district.”
Under rules established in 2001, when the state took over city schools, the mayor appoints two members of the five-member commission and the governor appoints three.
That left just two members — Denise McGregor Armbrister and Joseph A. Dworetzky — after Archie’s and Irizarry’s resignations in early September. Both men stepped down in the wake of a far-reaching scandal surrounding the departure of Superintendent Arlene Ackerman and efforts to turn Martin Luther King High School into a charter school.
Nutter filled one slot on Sept. 20, with the appointment of Wendell E. Pritchett, chancellor of Rutgers University-Camden.
Cary is a well-known novelist and teaches at the University of Pennsylvania.
Her novel, “The Price of a Child,” was the inaugural One Book One Philadelphia selection in 2003. A senior lecturer in creative writing in the English Department of the University of Pennsylvania, Cary founded Art Sanctuary in 1998 as a means of using African-American art to enrich the city and region, to bring the arts to schools and to build and strengthen a network among artists. She was awarded the Philadelphia Award in 2002.
Born and raised in Philadelphia, Cary has undergraduate and graduate degrees from Penn. She also won a Thouron Fellowship and earned an M.A. in Victorian literature from Sussex University in the United Kingdom. She graduated from St. Paul’s School in Concord, N.H. and later taught at the school.
Cary lives in East Falls with her husband, the Rev. Robert C. Smith, rector of the Memorial Church of the Good Shepherd. The couple has two daughters.
The Philadelphia Workforce Investment Board has announced the appointment of 10 new board members.
Mayor Michael Nutter appointed the new members between September and December.
“It is an ongoing goal and priority of our administration to improve opportunities for Philadelphia’s workers,” said Nutter.
“A growing, educated workforce is the engine of our city; the more we invest in our talent pool, the more likely it is that businesses will grow, thrive and expand in the city. I would like to thank the new board members for accepting this call to public service.”
The Philadelphia WIB provides the city with strategic and policy guidance to guarantee that opportunities exist for Philadelphians to become productive members of the workforce. The board also helps ensure that Philadelphia’s businesses will have the human resources necessary to flourish in an evolving economy. The board is business-led, with a majority of the 32 board members representing the private sector.
The following are the new PWIB board members: Anthony S. Bartolomeo, president and CEO, Pennoni Associates, Inc.; Ryan Boyer, business manager, Laborers District Council Philadelphia and Vicinity; Joseph Frick, vice chairman and managing partner, Diversified Search; Rev. Terrance Griffin, first vice president, Black Clergy of Philadelphia; Don Kuba, special assistant to the secretary, Pennsylvania Department of Labor and Industry Workforce Development Partnership; Debra Malinics, president/owner, DMA Advertising; Joseph M. Parente, principal, KPMG LLP; Ajay Raju, partner, Reed Smith LLP; Dr. Judith Renyi, executive director, Mayor’s Commission on Literacy and Myrna Toro, president, Synterra, Ltd.
PWIB is currently merging with the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation to form Philadelphia Works, Inc., a new workforce organization that will serve both employers and employees. The merger is expected to be complete in June 2012.
“The Philadelphia WIB has an important role to play in the months and years ahead, and I am excited that our newcomers will add energy and a fresh perspective as we shape our city’s workforce policies and strategies,” said WIB Chairman David Donald, CEO of PeopleShare.
“The merger of the WIB and the Philadelphia Workforce Development Corporation into Philadelphia Works, Inc. is a seminal moment in our city’s workforce development history.”
City, School District and charter school officials have joined forces in an effort to win a share of $40 million, from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, aimed at boosting school performance.
“Our goal is to enhance educational opportunities for about 50,000 students in the poorest performing schools in our district and charter school systems by creating high quality alternatives,” said Mayor Michael Nutter, at a joint press conference Tuesday at the Stetson Middle School in Kensington. “By 2016, our goal is to not have a single student in a low-performing school while raising the standards and quality of higher performing schools.”
The coalition of city, School District and charter officials has formed the Philadelphia Great Schools Compact — promising to share education strategies and methods at schools across the city. Philadelphia was one of 14 cities — including New York, Los Angeles, Boston and Baltimore — across the nation to form similar pacts, allowing them to compete for the Gates Foundation funds.
Nutter made the announcement with School Reform Commission Chairman Pedro Ramos and organizations representing the majority of the city’s charter schools as well as Don Shalvey, with the Gates Foundation.
The foundation has already approved a $100,000 grant to support the creation of the Great Schools Compact.
“I can remember a time when a compact between charter schools and district schools would have been unheard of,” Shalvey said. “But, Philadelphians took a bold move with this compact — to stand together in the interest of the youth at every single Philadelphia school, to change the opportunity equation for your futures.”
The School District is already in the midst of a reform plan intended to boost student performance.
Eighty-eight schools — charter and district schools serving 46,000 students — have been identified as the city’s lowest performing schools. Since 2010, the District has shifted approximately 20,000 students from 22 schools of those schools to new management and/or school models through its “Renaissance Schools” and “Promise Academies” programs.
There are about 210,000 students attending Philadelphia’s public and charter schools.
New reform plans will unite charter and district officials, who promised to set aside past differences and focus on the kids.
“The newly constituted SRC intends to pursue the aims of the compact vigorously,” Ramos said. “We know this requires great effort and steadfastness from all of us who have a stake in our students’ future — which means all of us in Philadelphia.”
Mark Gleason with the Philadelphia School Partnership, a non-profit dedicated to school improvement, also promised his support.
“The signing of the compact represents a great first step for Philadelphia,” said Gleason. “Already, we have seen funders rally in support. We formed PSP knowing that our city has lots of people and institutions who care deeply about improving schools, but unless we are all working and funding in concert we won’t be able to achieve results on a large scale.”
Shalvey too lauded the effort.
“Despite facing a number of challenges this year on the education front, Philadelphia has brought together an impressively broad group of stakeholders to support the vision of the Compact,” he said.
In addition to seeking funding from the Gates Foundation, city and education officials are looking for other outside funding. The Philadelphia School Partnership has begun putting together a “Great Schools Fund” to invest in the creation, expansion and sustainability of high-performing schools. Its goal is to raise $100 million by 2016 from individuals, corporations and foundations; it is currently in discussions with donors for matching commitments that could run as high as $20 million.
House votes to cut $83M for ex-offender rehabilitation
Many studies have been done in recent years about the rise of the prison population in America, the racial disparity that is all too evident in penal institutions and the high recidivism rate for those who have been incarcerated.
Some federal, state and local officials have seen the need to establish programs that successfully help ex-offenders reintegrate back into the communities — such as Mayor Michael Nutter’s Office of Re-Integration Services for Ex-Offenders, R.I.S.E.
But in September, the Republican controlled U.S. Senate Committee on Appropriations approved a bill that would eliminate funding for the Second Chance Act, which provides resources to nonprofits, states and local government to assist previously incarcerated people re-enter communities. Instead of supporting legislation that would shrink national prison populations, the new measure would add $300 million to the federal Bureau of Prisons’ $6 billion budget.
Not surprising, the purpose of that funding would support the building of seven new prisons over the next four years.
Advocates of criminal justice reform say this policy would continue the trend of increasing incarceration and racial disparity already inherent in the criminal justice system.
“We must embrace the humanity of ex-offenders and stop this second class citizenship by those who say they are politicians, but really are prison profiteers in this new slave system of the Prison Industrial Complex,” said Chad Dion Lassiter, MSW, co-founder and president of Black Men at Penn School of Social Work, Inc. “The collapse of the Second Chance Act funding is just a continuation of the agenda of prison expansion in an era in which ex-offenders are seen as inhuman in the eyes of a racist society. We need an act of humanity and we need to eliminate these weak politicians with our vote.”
The Second Chance Act legislation was signed into law during the Bush administration on April 9, 2008. The Second Chance Act provided federal money to non-profit organizations and federal agencies working to employ ex-offenders and provide substance abuse and mental health treatment, housing and other support services to prevent recidivism.
Originally the Second Chance Act was budgeted at $100 million in fiscal year 2010, and that was reduced to $83 million this year.
“The bill eliminates funding for the Second Chance Act programs [and] throws money at our prison overpopulation problem by increasing the Bureau of Prisons’ budget while eliminating funding for a proven solution to keep people out of prison,” said Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy. Leahy has pledged to work to restore funding when the House and Senate Appropriations Committees attempt to resolve budgetary differences.
“None of this comes as a surprise to me,” said Bilal Qayyum, Executive Director of the Father’s Day Rally Committee. “Republicans are interested in locking people up, not reducing the prison population. But this reflects how many people across the country think. Also, there is an economic component since prisons are built in rural communities and provides jobs for those areas. Republicans aren’t gung-ho about closing prisons and they don’t want people to have a second chance.”
Recently, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder met with officials of the federal Re-entry Council to address ways of ensuring that those individuals returning from prison become productive, law-abiding citizens. Among the topics on the table was the $83 million in Fiscal Year 2011 funding the Department of Justice would award for Second Chance Act grants and other re-entry programs.
“We must use every tool at our disposal to tear down the unnecessary barriers to economic opportunities and independence so that formerly incarcerated individuals can serve as productive members of their communities,” Holder said in a published report. “The Department of Justice announced it is providing funding to local organizations whose critical work will reduce recidivism and victimization. At the same time, the council is ensuring these individuals and their families have the facts about federal policies and resources governing employment issues, veterans’ benefits and voting rights as they return home.”
Laurie O. Robinson, Assistant Attorney General in the DOJ’s Office of Justice Programs also announced that 131 grants were recently awarded with the $83 million appropriated by Congress in Fiscal Year 2011 for the Second Chance Act and other re-entry programs.
“The fact that we received more than 1,000 applications for Second Chance funding this year shows that states and communities around the country are working together on reentry issues and community safety,” Robinson said in a press release.
According to the Pennsylvania Prison Society, 90 percent of the present inmate population will be released back into the community at some point with at least 65 percent likely to recidivate — having committed new crimes and be re-sentenced to prison. But experts say that with proper support mechanisms such as jobs, drug and alcohol counseling and life skills development, those numbers can be greatly reduced.
“It’s everything,” said William DiMascio, Executive Director of the Pennsylvania Prison Society. “While you’re in prison everything is structured; you’re told when to wake up, when to eat, when to shower. When they get released they’re basically told, ‘You’re on your own.’ They need legitimate employment; it’s essential to their self-esteem and their physical and emotional wellbeing. Since the Nutter Administration came on board there’s been a commitment to helping ex-offenders. Now they’ve had some challenges, but to their credit they have persisted. Not many people want to give you accolades for helping ex-inmates find jobs, but these people are a part of the community. We have to help them.”
DiMascio said that there are a lot of obstacles that confront ex-offenders, many of them institutionalized but there are also a lot of successful models that exist to help them and right now there is a growing recognition that ex-offenders don’t have to recidivate. Being released from prison is a big adjustment and they have to be mentally prepared for that.
“Language skills for example; many ex-offenders speak the language of the street and when you’re looking for work you have to be able to express to a prospective employer why you’re a good candidate for a job. This isn’t rocket science,” DiMascio said. He also said that improved and expanded services for ex-offenders would have a positive impact within the African-American community.
According to research conducted by the Sentencing Project, of the 2.3 million people serving time in the United States at least 60 percent are African American and other ethnic minorities. For Black males in their twenties, the figures are staggering; 1 out of 8 are in prison or jail on any given day.
“The flip side of all this is when are our young Black men going to wake up and stop behaving like fools?” asked Qayyum. “They don’t have to engage in behavior that’s going to end with a prison sentence or worse. Education has always been the key issue because education gives you the analytical skills needed to make wiser decisions. You think twice before committing a crime. Prison is not the way to go; all it does is short circuit your future. People in government who want to cut the funding for these programs know that.”
In making multiple visits to Philadelphia, Republican presidential hopeful Mitt Romney has shown he isn’t afraid to take the fight deep inside a longtime Democratic stronghold. And Romney’s campaign is attacking President Barack Obama’s stance on the one issue most critical to the majority of Philadelphians: public education.
Romney visited Guion S. Bluford Elementary School in West Philadelphia — a Renaissance School matched with a “turnaround” team led by Universal Companies and its founder, Kenny Gamble — on Thursday. In declaring that African-American schools need more money, Romney ripped a page from Obama’s playbook by bringing the conversation to the group of people affected the most.
The Republican presidential candidate visited the school a day after declaring education is the “civil rights issue of our era.”
Romney repeated that declaration during the school visit, but struggled to defend his view that class sizes aren’t a major factor in educational success. Local African-American leaders also said his push for more two-parent families isn’t realistic in their community.
As of press time, officials with Universal haven’t returned calls seeking comment. The School District of Philadelphia also wasn’t aware of Romney’s visit. Bluford sits in City Councilman Curtis Jones’ 4th district, and during Thursday’s Council meeting, Jones voiced his displeasure at both Romney’s low-key visit, and the presidential hopeful’s stance on education.
“Unbeknownst to many people [Romney] was here this morning at Bluford Elementary school where he was espousing his ‘class sizes don’t matter’ and everybody knows, even internally, size matters — class sizes,” Jones said, thanking his Republican colleagues on council for not meeting up with the former Massachusetts governor.
Jones said he only became aware of Romney’s visit through an update on KWY newsradio. Mayor Michael Nutter and District Attorney Seth Williams joined a rally outside of Bluford, condemning Romney’s stances — and for creeping quietly into Philadelphia.
In advance of his visit, Romney and his election campaign have simultaneously attacked Obama’s stance as elitist while urging districts to do away teacher unions.
“You know, President Obama likes to talk about how he’s for the underprivileged, but when it comes to the money that comes from the teachers union, he’s putting that campaign cash ahead of the needs of our kids. We have to recognize it’s time to put kids first, to get education on track by giving people greater choice in schools, by making sure we reward the very best teachers with great careers and rising income,” Romney said via a statement released by his campaign. “We know what to do to make our schools better.”
Those remarks mirror what Romney recently told Fox News’ Stave Doocy. When asked about the president’s education agenda, Romney wasted little time in going into attack mode, pointing to a Washington, D.C., school choice program that Romney claims Obama and the teachers union shuttled.
“We have a teachers’ union that too often stands in the way of the kind of reforms that would make education work. We know, for instance, in Washington, D.C., that school choice there helped immeasurably with young people - improving their quality of learning and their skills, and yet the President shut down the program,” Romney said on the news program. “We’ve got to put the unions behind, and put the kids first.”
Philadelphia Federation of Teachers President Jerry Jordan assailed the notion that teacher unions are standing in the way of school reform. Jordan noted that the PFT has sacrificed and produced several rounds of givebacks during recent contract discussions. Jordan said there are other factors in union negotiations that either Romney doesn’t know about or fails to acknowledge.
“We have consistently [partnered with the district on cuts] and I would defy anyone from the board who suggests we haven’t been very effective in working with the district to keep health care costs as low as they can possibly be through negotiations,” Jordan said, during a recent editorial board meeting at The Tribune. “That’s a reality that all organizations have to build in; you shouldn’t ask people to work and not have health care.”
Lis Smith, a spokeswoman with President Obama’s reelection campaign, quickly responded to Romney’s visit to Philadelphia — and to the assertions Romney made; striking at Romney’s often-criticized business models and asking if the presidential hopeful will apply the same tactics to education as he did while at Bain Capital.
“When he’s in Philadelphia today, will Mitt Romney tell the truth about how he wants to apply Romney Economics to education? As we’ve seen throughout Mitt Romney’s career in both the private and public sectors, Romney Economics is all about the short term,” Smith said via a statement released by the Obama reelection campaign. “We’ve already seen what Romney Economics meant for Massachusetts students — larger class sizes, a de-emphasis on critical early education, teachers laid off, and in one year alone, the second-largest per-pupil cuts in the nation … these aren’t the priorities Americans want in our President.”
Tribune staff writer Eric Mayes and The Associated Press contributed to this report.