Former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., head of Amachi, to be co-chair
Mobilizing the entire city government and allies across the city, Mayor Michael Nutter has re-established the Mayor’s Commission on African-American Males.
“The City of Philadelphia is eager to help,” the mayor said in announcing the new commission. “The entire city government, everyone in city government and all of our related agencies will have a role to play, will be tasked to support the efforts of the mayor’s commission.
The group will eventually be composed of about 30 volunteer members tasked with addressing unemployment, incarceration, a lack of education and health among Black men. They will issue an annual report on the state of African-American men in Philadelphia, along with recommendations for action.
“We must all look at the big picture,” Nutter said. “If a man is uneducated … if they are unemployed, if they are unhealthy, we pretty much know what their life path will be. But, if they are educated, employed and healthy they are a lot less likely to be part of the criminal justice system.”
Nutter signed an executive order creating the commission at a special ceremony Thursday afternoon at City Hall.
He also named its three co-chairs: former Mayor W. Wilson Goode Sr., who first created the commission in 1991 and now heads Amachi, an education non-profit; Bilal Qayyum, president of the Father’s Day Rally Committee Inc. and Jamar Izzard, a radio host at 107.9.
“The plight of the African-American male is a crisis,” Goode said. “Unless something is done, then the future of African-American males looks very, very bleak.”
Goode first created the commission because he had concerns similar to Nutter’s.
“There are ways we can begin to deal with this problem if we show it attention,” he said, adding that if Nutter hadn’t asked him to be a part of the commission he would have begged to be appointed. “For me, this is my life’s work.”
Qayyum and Izzard echoed Goode.
“We have to challenge ourselves and all the others around us to change their attitude and their behavior,” Qayyum said. “We’re going to make some changes in this city to let folks know that there are more positive Black men in the city doing positive things than there are doing negative things.”
“I’m going to give it everything I have,” added Izzard.
Historic burial site needs money, restoration, care
Mount Moriah Cemetery, lately a public eyesore and testament to urban decay that sprawls across Southwest Philadelphia and Yeadon, is going to stay that way for the foreseeable future.
“It’s dead,” state Rep. Ron Waters said of the cemetery, which has been in a state of disarray for decades. “I know that’s not exactly what you want to say about a cemetery but that’s where things are here.”
The House Democratic Policy Committee examined the impact regulations are having on cemetery maintenance at a public hearing at Drexel University last month. Specifically at issue was the condition of Mount Mariah Cemetery, which is in Waters’ district. Waters, who requested and co-chaired the hearing, said the historic cemetery can serve as a case study of whether cemetery regulations can be improved.
“Examples of community treasures that are not being adequately preserved like Mount Moriah Cemetery exist all over the state,” said Committee Chairman Mike Sturla, D-Lancaster. It’s important to determine who is responsible for maintaining these unique facilities to ensure they are available for generations to come.”
Mt. Moriah, which sits on 380 acres, was incorporated in 1855. The cemetery closed unexpectedly in March 2011 with no notice to the city, the borough of Yeadon or the state. Since its founding, the cemetery had been operated by the Mount Moriah Cemetery Association. However, the last board member died in 2004, and there is no one authorized to act on its behalf.
The balances in the bank accounts owned by the association have approximately $10,000 in them, not nearly enough to restore the cemetery or even maintain it.
“Right now, we are going to explore what it will take to get it where it should be as one of the largest cemeteries in the nation,” Waters said. “We are getting other ideas from people that have properly run cemeteries, and we’re looking for people who can properly manage it and keep it in line with regulations that govern it.”
In short, they don’t know what they are going to do with it, nor do they know where the money is coming from. It cannot be taken over by municipal authority because this only happens with infrastructure. Bankruptcy is not an option, because state law prohibits involuntary bankruptcies for non-profits.
The city says it could conduct an involuntary liquidation of the property.
“This has all happened over the last three decades,” Waters said sadly. “The people in the neighborhood say that it has been going down for 30 years. It took a long time for it to get this way; it’s going to take a long time for it to be rectified.”
Melodie Homer knows how hard her husband fought to save the lives of the passengers aboard United Airlines Flight 93.
"He's a military man. He's very brave. He would have done whatever he could do to not have that plane harm any more people,” she said.
Ten years removed from the tragic terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, Homer, the widow of LeRoy W. Homer Jr., the African-American co-pilot who died along with 37 passengers when terrorists commandeered the cockpit of the San Francisco-bound 757 that ultimately crashed and burned in a field in Shanksville, is still picking up the pieces.
“There isn’t a day that goes by that he doesn’t cross my mind, and some days it’s not easy,” the Marlton, N.J., resident said recently. “He was a loving husband, a friend and a father. He was a good man and I want to keep his memory alive.”
Melodie has done her best to carry on the spirit of her husband, who served as a pilot in the Gulf War. She is a peaceful woman of Canadian origin. But she knows her husband’s place in history is a special one, especially as the nation prepares to mark the 10th anniversary of the worst terror attack on American soil.
“Essentially, the battle against terrorism started in the cockpit of that plane,” Melodie Homer said. “It was a combination between passengers and the crew, but it started right there in the cockpit.”
For years it had been speculated that her husband and Captain Jason Dahl were killed very early in the flight by the four hijackers. But in 2002 the FBI shared with her tape of the communication between the air traffic control and cockpit that has led her to believe otherwise.
Homer is confident that the tapes make it clear that her husband was knocked unconscious and dragged from the cockpit in the initial struggle. Before the plane went down, she says, he had regained consciousness and was part of the final attack that forced the plane to abort its intended target, which was somewhere in Washington, D.C., and crash.
What she will never forget about those tapes is hearing her husband’s final words.
“He sent out the Mayday,” Homer said.
Homer will release a book this fall, “From Where I Stand,” – where she is expected to reveal much more about that tragic day.
Although she is Canadian, she has not been afraid to wade into America’s sullied political waters in the aftermath of 9/11. For instance, she opposed George Bush’s decision to invade Iraq.
“Why?” she said. “We were going after al-Qaida. They were the terrorists. They were not there.”
She was relieved when President Barack Obama announced that Osama bin Laden, the mastermind behind the attack that also toppled the World Trade Center and damaged the Pentagon, had been killed earlier this year. She joined Obama in New York a few short days after the madman was captured, but she still carried a heavy heart.
When she finally met Obama, he embraced her a long time and she said he wanted to hear what she had to say.
“I just told him about my husband — and he listened to everything I said,” Homer said.
She has not, however, made herself a tragic figure. In fact, she has transformed her personal tragedy of 9/11 into triumphant stories for others.
In 2002 she founded the Leroy W. Homer Jr. Foundation, which awards scholarships to aspiring pilots and helps them achieve their dreams.
The foundation has awarded money to more than a dozen pilots. A pilot’s license is expensive and can cost in excess of $10,000.
Visha Patel, a 17-year-old from Pomona, Calif., was the recipient of the 2011 scholarship, which was awarded at a fund-raising event and silent auction at the Laurel Creek Country Club in Moorestown, N.J., recently.
Patel was joined by four other recent recipients of the award, all of whom have backgrounds similar to Leroy Homer Jr.
“It is wonderful that she has done this,” Patel, who wants to become a commercial pilot, said. “It is such a selfless act. There are many people who would not think of others and their future after having experienced what she and her family went through. She is turning what is a terrible moment in her life into something very positive.”
Local advocacy group calls for end to gender-specific transit passes
For some in Robin Markle’s organization, purchasing and using a SEPTA fare card is nothing short of a nightmare.
“For the people in our community, it can be terrible,” Markle, of West Philadelphia, said. “You have to deal with the emotional impact and the monetary impact that comes along with it.”
Markle was speaking for Philly Riders Against Gender Exclusion (RAGE), a grassroots “transgender and gender non-conforming” organization that wants SEPTA to do away with the male and female designations on transit passes in the city and its suburbs.
Markel and a small group of protestors showed up at SEPTA headquarters on Thursday to present General Manager Joe Casey with an application to join their movement. Members of RAGE say they have gathered 1,500 signatures — they are shooting for 3,000 — to have the designations removed.
“A lot of transgender and gender non-conforming people are harassed when they are taking SEPTA,” Markle said. “They might buy a pass that says they are one gender and they are in the process of taking hormones or having surgery. It’s not just like you wake up in the morning one day and look like the other gender. Some of the people will look ambiguous during the time when they are transforming.”
RAGE‘s position is that the gender stickers bring about discrimination to its members. They also contend that they face a threat to their safety — because of the stickers. The organization has pledged to report incidents of gender-based harassment; step in whenever they see gender-based harassment; to be a visible ally to SEPTA riders of all genders; and do everything in their power to end the gender sticker policy, which they maintain only exists in Philadelphia. Public transit agencies in New York, New Jersey, Washington and Los Angeles do not issue gender-specific passes.
While Casey did not come down to discuss the issue with the protestors, SEPTA representatives Kim Scott Heinle, assistant general manager of customer service and advocacy, and Richard Maloney, director of public affairs and marketing, met very amicably with the group.
SEPTA has maintained its policy of placing a gender designation on fare cards since 1981. However, they made it clear that this policy will soon be ending — they just couldn’t say specifically when.
“Our position has been pretty consistent since the issue was first brought up by these folks,” Heinle said. “It is a complicated issue, but it is one that needs to be addressed in a comprehensive and legal fashion. It’s a fare-related issue, so we have a very public process. The logical time for us to deal with this across the board is when the new payment technology brings us to the point where we need to go in and make some new fare adjustments. When the stickers are eliminated there is going to be some impact to revenue. That revenue impact has to be calculated by our finance people, and built into the new structure.”
SEPTA initiated placing gender identifiers on fare cards to prevent the illegal use of the card by multiple people of the same sex. In some European cities the card purchasers photo is electronically attached to the card. It is unknown if SEPTA will consider this, but it was not ruled out.
Said Maloney, “Our passes are priced and intended for personal use, not to be shared — and at a cheap discount. When we hear reports that individuals buy passes and swap it around a household, the gender sticker is just one mechanism to limit that. We can move away from it, but it won’t be until we recognize the impact it will have on revenue the next time we adjust fares.”
SEPTA has a hotline for sexual harassment complaints. Both Heinle and Malone said they have had few complaints regarding transgender and gender non-conforming riders.
“Now, I will see emails next week from across the country saying that this policy is ridiculous,” Heinle said. “It has happened before.”
While many Philadelphians were commemorating the thousands of Americans who died in the September 11th terrorist attacks, the city’s homegrown terrorists were busy kicking up the city’s homicide count.
According to law enforcement officials, eight people were gunned down from Thursday to Sunday in unrelated incidents of murder, raising the number of killings in the city to 229, an increase from last year’s 218 for the same month.
The first homicide happened on Thursday, September 8, in the 1300 block of Roumfort Road. The victim has been identified as Terrell Holcomb, a 21-year-old Black male from the 8600 block of Gilbert Road. Holcomb was shot in the head by a still unknown assailant.
He was pronounced dead at 7:08 a.m. at Albert Einstein Medical Center. As of Tribune press time police are still trying to determine a motive.
The second weekend homicide occurred on September 9 in the 500 block of West York Street in the 26th Police District at 10:21 a.m.
Officers responded to a report of a shooting in the vicinity and when they arrived at the scene they found the victim on the ground suffering from a gunshot wound to the chest. He was pronounced dead at the scene.
He has been identified as James Hall, 58, of the 3200 block of Newkirk Street. Police have arrested a suspect in the case, identified as Calvin Atkerson, a 21-year-old Black male from the 2400 block of North Fairhill Street.
Law enforcement officials said the motive was an argument. Atkerson has been charged with murder and related offenses.
In a third unrelated shooting, police officials said that a 23-year-old Black female was the victim of an apparent robbery.
On September 10, police from the 25th District were called to the 3300 block of North 13th Street at 3:28 a.m. in response to a report of gunfire. When they arrived at the scene they found the victim on the ground dying from a gunshot wound to the head.
She has been identified as Shari Harris of the 3300 block of North Park Avenue.
As of Tribune press time police have no suspects under arrest.
On September 11, police rushed to the 1000 block of North 5th Street in response to another report of gunfire. When officers from the 26th District arrived at the scene they found the victim, Alsred Santiago, from the 400 block of South 5th Street in Camden, New Jersey suffering from a gunshot wound to the torso.
The 22-year-old Hispanic male was pronounced dead at the scene. As of Tribune press time police have no motive and no suspects in custody.
The sixth homicide was also committed on September 11th. At 3:08 p.m. police from the 22nd District responded to a report of gunfire in the 2700 block of West Eyre Street. When police arrived at the scene they found the victim suffering from multiple gunshot wounds to the chest and torso.
He was identified as Kevin Underwood, a 22-year-old Black male from the 2800 block of West Oxford Road. He was pronounced dead at Temple University Hospital at 3:54 p.m.
So far police have not determined the motive, and no arrests have been made.
Also on September 11 at 7:37 p.m. police from the 19th District were called to the 1600 block of Lindenwood Street in response to another shooting. When officers arrived at the scene they found the victim dying from a gunshot wound to the chest. He was identified as Christopher Lee, a 22-year-old Black male from the 5100 block of Kershaw Street.
Lee was rushed to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was pronounced dead at 8:15 p.m.
Investigators said the motive was robbery and they are still looking for a suspect in the case.
Finally, also on September 11, police from the 19th District were called to the 5200 block of Master Street just after 8 p.m. in response to a report of gunfire. As of Tribune press time police have not released the victim’s name but he was a 28-year-old Black male.
The victim was fatally shot in the neck and pronounced dead at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania at 8:25 p.m. Police have no motive and have so no arrests have been made.
In an unrelated criminal investigation, police said they have arrested a man wanted for multiple robberies. Kelvin C. Miller has been identified as the suspect in multiple robberies in the 12th police district. On August 25, Miller was arrested by the Trenton Police Department during a traffic stop. Miller, 32, is from the 100 block of Chestnut Street and will be charged with robbery and related offenses.
Wouldn’t it be great to be able to live your dream? Well, this lady is actually living her dream of leading a boarding school for low-income students. It’s been a dream since she wrote about it on her entrance essay for the University of Virginia. Autumn Adkins Graves is the first African-American woman president of Girard College.
That’s significant because the school is the legacy of Stephen Girard that in 1833 established a school for white orphan boys and only admitted African-American males in 1968 after years of legal battles and picketing and admitted the first girl in 1984.
Autumn was born in Monongahela, Pa., right outside of Pittsburgh. The youngest of four children, she was seen as her mother’s “special project” as there are 16 years between her and her closest sibling. She came along when her mother was in her forties and her parents were planning to adopt.
The family moved to Richmond when she was in the fourth grade and her first career goal was to be a teacher. She later considered something similar to managing a hedge fund so she could make a lot of money to open a private boarding school for inner city children or a sports agent.
A sports colleague advised against the latter saying that she was too nice and cared too much about others rather than about the money the athletes would make more for her as a sports agent.
She says that her father worked a lot and her mother was the primary caregiver and messenger for the family. They encouraged their children to be positive, loving and to work hard. For the family, school was not an option, it was expected. There was not a question of if, only when one would go on to higher education.
Her mother stressed doing your personal best, following your passion, and being a lady…how a lady behaves, sits, walks, talks and conducts herself.
When “AJ” (family nickname for Autumn Joy) was dating as a teenager, her mother would lovingly admonish her “don’t embarrass me and don’t ruin my last name.” Some of her best advice came from her father who told her “don’t take yourself too seriously.”
An avid history buff, she’s currently reading “The Immortal Life of Henrietta Lacks” by Rebecca Skloot, which relates the story of an African-American woman from Virginia who died at the age of 31 and whose cancer cells provided for major medical research without her knowledge. It’s a story of cancer, racism, scientific ethics and crippling poverty.
A defining moment for Adkins Graves was when she applied for job to head a New England private school. She was a finalist and felt it was good fit after a long interview process. However, in the end, it was traumatic.
It was, she said, “the first time I really felt racism.” She was informed that they “must go with a safe choice in these uncertain economic times.” For Adkins Graves, it was raw and painful. She says that she actually wailed for a moment because it took the wind out of her sail and she thought, “What’s the point?” However, two weeks later, the headhunter for Girard College called.
In retrospect, she believes she needed to have that experience to have the drive she has now in preparing students at Girard College.
“Without question I make sure they know they have skills and abilities and that it’s okay to hurt and to not be paralyzed by it. They should be aware that there’ll be another opportunity and to always be prepared for it and not think all people are like (the interviewer for the New England School). I was tempted to call him and tell him…but I didn’t.”
Just three days before her Girard interview, she met her husband-to-be, R. Vann Graves, and discovered that they had a Virginia connection. It was a blind date about which both parties were reluctant. However, Adkins Graves says now, “he’s my dream and he’s so cute.” She really enjoys being a wife and looks forward to starting her own family.
She notes, “I want to be a good wife; I’ve been a career person for so long. It’s very different to have another role that I play in a family, and I take it very seriously. It’s important to have balance between my job (which is such important work and good work) and my family life.”
Spending time with her husband and with family and friends relaxes her. Travel and great restaurants bring her joy, noting that Philadelphia has many great choices. She deems herself a magazine junkie and while she will read a book using a Kindle, she doesn’t want to give up the pleasure she gets from turning the pages of magazines and seeing the many pictures and reading the many interesting stories they contain. She wants to integrate technology into a reading program at Girard.
Before she turns 50, she wants to visit all 50 states (she’s been to 39). Someday, she’d like to get a Ph.D. in something other than education, possibly history or psychology. At different times and phases in her life, she’s had different theme songs. Her battle cry used to be the Gloria Gaynor anthem, “I Will Survive.”
Since she got married, she now favors the Bill Withers tune, “Just the Two of Us” as her relationship with her husband is both tender and special. Her two all-time favorites continue to be “His Eye Is on The Sparrow” and “All Hail the Power.”
With respect to mentoring, “for me, it’s not formal. I think mentoring is about wisdom, knowledge and experience. I’m just getting to that point where I feel that I have something of significant value to offer to someone; I talk to young people and gently raise questions about where they are in their careers to help them lesson themselves.”
Adkins Graves is a graduate of University of Virginia (BA), and Columbia University Teachers College (MA). She was assistant principal at Friends Seminary in Manhattan, dean of the Upper School at Sidwell Friends (Washington, D.C.), director of special programs at Mercerburg Academy (Pennsylvania) and upper school counselor and community service coordinator at the Breck School (Minneapolis).
Adkins Graves views education as much more than books. “One has to work smart and be able to have a practical education, to use it as a vehicle for access to family sustaining jobs so one will know how to feed them selves; how to take care of one’s body; how to restore one’s soul; how to make good choices for you and your partner, and how to be good parents.”
She has enjoyed teaching history and found it exciting to watch children learn about how “dead” people impact their lives today and figure how they will impact the future and why we do what we do.
In this position, she is an employee of the board of directors of the City Trusts, and reports directly to attorney Bernard Smalley, chairman of the Girard College Committee of the Board of City Trusts.
Notes Smalley, “she has completed her second year and has worked extremely hard given the challenges she’s faced with the overall school environment as an outsider coming in and learning the ways of Philadelphia — and [there are challenges] with the decreased budget at a time when there are multi-plans for the future of Girard College and its vision. She still has a bit to learn, as do we all.”
Girard currently has 185 employees, down from 260 due to budget cuts. One of her priorities is to make the school open to the Philadelphia community and to break down the “wall.” As such, Girard hosts the MLK Day of Service, works with the Fairmount CDC, hosts many different events and serves as a rental facility for special events including weddings, receptions and corporate meetings.
Adkins Graves is building relationships with the alumni association which consists of a group of people who are committed and supportive. She loves her job!
She is active on the boards of Shipley School, the Greater Philadelphia Film Office, the Library Company, the NY Branch of Children’s Defense Fund and is a member of The Links-Philadelphia Chapter.
She describes her leadership style as one that is open, direct (maybe too much), wanting staff to understand why she’s doing what she’s doing, wanting staff to take some direction and mix it with their own expertise and check in with her. Keys to success for this driven lady have been lots of prayer, faith in the unknown, surrounding herself with good people (who are smart and have good souls) and having the ability to grow.
Her heroes and sheroes are the everyday people from whom she’s learned so much. Many of them do extraordinary things that often go overlooked. She believes that unfortunately, young people underrate the value of work — they have a sense that everything should come instantly because they’ve made “any” effort. They’ve seen too many experiences of the flash and glamour and get rich quick messages and not enough of how to be a regular person — which is so meaningful and rewarding. She encourages young people to “Work Hard! Play Hard! Pray Harder!”
A FEW OF HER FAVORITE THINGS:
Book: “Green Eggs and Hair”
Movie: “The Shawshank Redemption”
Color: Royal blue
Food: Her mother’s macaroni and cheese and good Italian food
Former inmates, unable to earn living wage, return to crime, according to study
Ex-offenders from Philadelphia have a more difficult time turning their lives around after a stint in prison than do former inmates from other areas, noted a new report on recidivism in Philadelphia.
The reasons are twofold — inmates from Philadelphia have less education than their counterparts, and there is stiffer competition for a shrinking pool of low-skill jobs in Philadelphia.
“In Philadelphia jails, 55 percent of inmates are high school dropouts that do not have a GED or a high school diploma. Compare that to the national inmate population where 40 percent are high school dropouts,” said Joshua Sevin, deputy director of Economy League of Greater Philadelphia. “And, we’re seeing intense competition for a low and seemingly shrinking number of low-skilled jobs.”
Only 4 percent of Philadelphia inmates had a college degree, compared to 22 percent nationally.
Even if they can find a job, ex-offenders with no high school diploma in Philadelphia can only expect to earn about $8,300 annually after their release from jail.
“That’s barely enough to cover fair-market rent for an apartment,” Sevin said. “Clearly it’s very tough going for ex-offenders.”
In general, ex-offenders earn 11 percent less per hour than people with no record, and wage growth is 30 percent less.
The difficulty is compounded by the fact that many ex-offenders face fines, restitution, court costs and fees, and child support payments that in some cases total up to 65 percent of their income. With an annual salary of $8,300, that equates to $5,395, leaving an ex-offender $2,905 a year on which to live.
“There is often a hole of debt and restitution that awaits them when they come out of jail,” Sevin said. “When you talk about incentives for someone to seek and stick with employment, that amount of money going out the door really takes down the incentive.”
That’s bad news not only for those individuals, but also for the city as whole, found the report released Monday by the Economy League, which detailed the economic impact of the city’s recidivism rate.
High recidivism rates cost the city in wage and sales taxes as well as adding to the growing costs of incarceration. The report estimated that if Philadelphia could cut the number of inmates returning to jail by 1,500 it would save $26.3 million a year.
The report recommended that the city align its policy to the realities faced by ex-offenders in five ways: increase spending on education and employment programs for ex-offenders; work more closely with industries likely to hire former inmates; push its $10,000 tax credit for hiring ex-offenders; extend wage garnishment periods for ex-offenders and make sure its programs are working.
“This is a public safety … challenge,” said Mayor Michael Nutter. “It’s not just about giving someone a second chance. I would suggest it’s about life saving.”
There are an estimated 300,000 ex-offenders in Philadelphia.
Each year there are about 40,000 releases from city, state and federal prisons in Philadelphia. Sevin cautioned that figure did not mean 40,000 people were released each year, because prison statistics track releases, not individuals, and some individuals are released and go back to prison and are released again within the same calendar year.
Still, the number of ex-offenders hitting the streets annually was near that figure.
The report noted that 60 percent of them remained unemployed one year after their release and 40 percent would return to jail within three years of their release.
Most of them lack work readiness skills, the social network needed to land a job and face employers reluctant to hire ex-offenders.
“When folks are working they literally just don’t have time and are less motivated to be out here robbing people, stealing and creating all kinds of havoc,” said Nutter.
The city has been grappling with the problem for years.
In April, the city prohibited prospective employees from asking whether job applicants had ever been convicted of a felony until at least the second interview. Hopes were that removing those questions early more ex-offenders will be able to more easily make the transition from prison to life outside.
State officials discuss ‘re-entry’ reform for former inmates
In an attempt to deal with the complexities of reintegrating ex-offenders back into society, approximately 200 officials from across the state gathered in Harrisburg this week at a summit intended to spark a statewide discussion of the issue.
“After all is said and done more is said than done,” said Joseph A. McMillan, a past president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives, and a speaker at the event.
Hopes are high that through raising awareness, that will change.
“Successful re-entry serves not only the prisoner but it serves us as well,” said organizer retired Judge Doris Smith-Ribner, who put together the event at the Widener School of Law. “It serves all of society. It’s up to each one of us along with each branch of government to create more strategies to prevent people from re-offending and returning to prison and to find ways to remove the barriers that exist.”
It was the first such summit in Pennsylvania.
As the number of inmates grows, so does the problem of re-entry.
“Neglecting inmate re-entry and alternative sentencing has wasted lives. It’s created more crime and it’s contributed heavily to our budget crisis,” said Smith-Ribner. “A new direction can both save us money and make us safer.”
Pennsylvania housed 51,487 prisoners in 2010 — up from 36,816 in 2000, a 40 percent increase with projections from the state Department of Corrections anticipating that it will grow to 61,146 by 2014 — and the total budget for state prisons has risen to $1.9 billion.
Nationwide there are 2.3 million people in federal, state and local prisons. More than 700,000 are released nationally from state and federal prisons each year and more than 9 million from local jails.
In Philadelphia alone, about 40,000 people are released from jail each year.
Many return to jail because they are inadequately prepared for the transition back into society.
The three-year recidivism rate nationally is 50 percent. In Pennsylvania it is 42 percent and in Philadelphia it’s 40 percent.
Inmates returning to the outside world face hurdles on almost every front. They often lack the family support needed to transition from prison to society; lack the necessary social skills, education, access to housing and employment opportunities; and often face debt from court costs and fees and other things like child support.
Pittsburgh has been trying to build a coordinated strategy to help ex-offenders even before they leave prison.
Most of the changes have been relatively minor but have had a large impact, said Amanda Aldridge, a sergeant with the Pittsburgh Bureau of Police.
Visitation rules at city jails have been changed to allow inmates’ families to visit them in a less institutional setting, often without any barriers between inmates and family members, particularly children.
It’s a first step in breaking a cycle that not only harms the inmate by isolating him or her from their family but also isolates the child, potentially putting them on a similar path.
“If you keep dad or baby daddy or baby momma from coming back to jail you’re probably keeping their children from coming to jail,” Aldridge said, adding: “In order for a child to thrive they need that contact.”
The city also outsourced its jail call center, expanding its hours in an effort to handle more than 3,000 missed calls in a typical month. Now families have greater access to the information they need on a timetable that is more user friendly.
“You have to create an opportunity for them and their families to interact with the system,” Aldridge said. “We have to be about changing all of those kinds of things.”
Pittsburgh’s prison officials are also working with the judges to make changes to sentencing and release orders.
Aldridge explained that even small changes in judges’ orders have a big impact.
As an example, she noted that judges’ orders in Allegheny County used to set a release date with the word forthwith. So, inmates were often released at midnight on the date of the order, which sometimes left them stranded late at night or presented difficulty for family members or support organizations. Now, orders give jails two days to release inmates. That means they can be released at a time that is more convenient — easing their re-entry from the start.
In addition, Pittsburgh tries to makes sure their immediate need for items of clothing or other necessities are met.
Perhaps the largest obstacle faced by ex-offenders is finding a job.
Fear often means employers are reluctant to hire ex-offenders, but often their concerns are groundless, said Mark Boyd, president and CEO of Goodwill Industries of Southern New Jersey and Philadelphia.
Goodwill employs about 700 people, about 50 of whom are ex-offenders.
“I’ve found that the ex-offenders that work for me may be the best workforce that I have because they are very loyal, very hardworking. They care desperately about keeping this job,” Boyd said. “A lot of them have spent a long time looking for a job and have been turned down by a lot of employers and now that they have a job they don’t want to lose it.”
City looking into former superintendent’s claim she was ‘advised’ to change her charter decision
Former Philadelphia School District Superintendent Arlene Ackerman is no longer the central figure charged with educating the more than 155,000 students in the district, but her influence continues to run far and wide in the city.
Almost a month after she and the School Reform Commission agreed on her contract buyout, Ackerman has shifted attention to another unseemly School District situation — the Martin Luther King charter fiasco.
Specifically, Ackerman told The Notebook.org, a blog that covers the Philadelphia public schools, that Mayor Michael Nutter already has the results of an investigation into the controversy. It was back in April that Nutter announced an investigation into the situation headed by Chief Integrity Officer Joan Markman.
“I think it’s tragic and unconscionable, that the story hasn’t been told yet,” Ackerman told the Notebook earlier this week.
According to the office of the mayor, that day is coming within the next two weeks, maybe less. Until that time, though, Ackerman and others will have to wait a little bit longer.
“The report from the chief integrity officer to the mayor will be released shortly,” mayoral spokesman Mark McDonald said. “It would be premature to talk about anything particular to that whole issue at this point.”
With the resignation on Monday of School Reform Commission Chairman Robert L. Archie, Committee of Seventy President Zack Stalberg says that the public is due an answer now.
“It is my understanding that the Markman report is in [the mayor’s] hands, and I think it should be released,” said the president of the watchdog organization. “Not releasing it sends a bad message on top of the other bad messages that have already been sent. The decision of who is going to be the operator of Martin Luther King High School has been closely watched since Easter. It would clear up at least one of the clouds hanging over the school district if the mayor released the report.”
Archie’s resignation, Stalberg says, just raises more questions begging to be answered.
“Now that Archie has resigned, the public has the right to know whether or not the findings of the report had anything to do with his resignation.”
At the core of the controversy was the battle between Foundations, Inc., an organization with which state Rep. Dwight Evans has deep ties, and Mosaica Education out of Atlanta. It was reported last April that Evans — in a closed-door meeting, allegedly convinced Mosaica to back out of the five-year, $12 million contract it had been awarded so that Foundations could have it.
While she gives no specifics, Ackerman painted a picture of arm-twisting and political backroom deals being made that superseded the wants, needs and desires of the parents and children of Martin Luther King High.
Of that situation, Ackerman told The Notebook that she felt pressured on more than one occasion to endorse Foundations, Inc. over Mosaica. She added that she “was told by someone that if I didn’t get my mind right about this Foundations situation, that something would be leaked about my finances.”
Not long after she was allegedly given this directive, Fox29 News aired a report that showed she owed more $20,000 in back taxes. Ackerman’s tax attorney works at Duane Morris LLP. Archie is also a partner at Duane Morris, and a close associate of Evans.
The SRC voted to award Mosaica — which had been the choice of an advisory panel of King parents and community leaders — the contract on March 16. Scant hours later, Archie, who said he was acting in his official capacity, called a meeting of all parties despite his obvious conflict of interest — Duane Morris had represented Foundations before.
Shortly after Archie’s role became public, Foundations withdrew its bid for the contract. A long-suffering school that has struggled academically, King today is run by the school district as a Promise Academy.
At the time the decision was made, Ackerman appeared neutral on the issue. Now it appears that her support was for Mosaica all along, and she wants the story told.
“I think the public needs to know exactly what happened so that this won’t happen again,” Ackerman said.
When Nutter launched the investigation into the King controversy, he spoke in urgent terms of getting to the bottom of the situation. However, in the days, weeks and now months that have passed — that sense of urgency has waned.
Meanwhile, the SRC is still shrouded in mystery. When the SRC bought out Ackerman’s contract at $905,000, $405,000 came from anonymous donors. The privacy of those anonymous donors stirred a furor in the city that eventually the public donors reneged on the money, leaving the school district — and taxpayers — to foot the bill.
Witnesses at 47th and Walnut, state police made false arrest, used excessive force on legally blind Black man; officers argue otherwise
The Philadelphia Police Department is sorting out exactly what happened when a pedestrian stop turned ugly, leaving the suspect, who is legally blind, and two officers with injuries, and accusations of excessive force flying in the community once again.
Witnesses said police were overly aggressive in trying to subdue Darrell Holloway, 22, who is legally blind. The police are saying Holloway started the physical altercation when he and his cousin, Jamal Holloway, 33, were stopped by 18th District police officers who suspected them of making a drug transaction.
No drugs or money were found, but during the course of the investigation, Holloway allegedly started the physical confrontation with police, law enforcement officials said.
The incident, which was videotaped by a witness and posted on the Internet, happened in the vicinity of 47th and Walnut streets on Friday, Aug. 19 around 9:45 p.m.
According to Deputy Commissioner Richard Ross, Philadelphia police officer Anthony Lazzaro reported that he and his partner approached three men for suspicious activity. In the arrest report Lazzaro said that when he pulled defendant Darrell Holloway toward his police car, Holloway pushed him and then punched him. Assisting officers were called during which time Holloway and Officer Lazzaro exchanged blows while local residents gathered and observed.
One resident, Charles Maddox, recorded part of the incident with a cell phone. The visual quality of the recording is poor because the area is dark, poorly lit and tall trees obscure streetlights. But the audio picked up shouting by residents; one who repeatedly said that Holloway was a blind man.
“This incident is definitely under investigation,” Ross said. “Obviously, we want to resolve this.”
Holloway has been charged with aggravated assault, simple assault, recklessly endangering another person, resisting arrest and disorderly conduct. He does have a history of juvenile contacts with police, but no adult arrest record. His partial blindness is a result of a gunshot wound to the head four years ago.
Holloway was taken to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania where he was treated for minor injuries and released. Officer Lazzaro and a second officer were also treated for minor injuries.
Holloway’s attorney, Kevin B. Mincey, told the Tribune that his client has a different story.
“My client says that the officer grabbed him from behind, slammed him into a parked car and then started punching him,” Mincey said. “At one point, according to Officer Lazzaro they were separated by other officers and my client broke free, charged Officer Lazzaro and started choking him. My client is legally blind in both eyes. He can’t see shadows or any difference in light. Somehow he charged the officers? In the video, which has poor visual quality but in the audio you can clearly hear the outrage by residents. This portion of Walnut Street is dark and my client’s back was to the officers, so how could they see a drug transaction? But all of this is something we’ll fight in court.”
Mincey said Holloway is out on bail and awaiting arraignment, which has been scheduled for Sept. 27.