First time felons get second chances

A new partnership between the Philadelphia D.A.’s office and Community College of Philadelphia could soon be making waves in the world of judicial diversion programs.

“The new paradigm of being a prosecutor is to do all that we can to prevent crime and prevent recidivism,” Williams said. “What is even more important than tremendous and high-quality re-entry programs is what I call pre-entry programs.”

The program, “Future Forward,” diverts individuals charged with non-violent felonies for the first time, aged 24 or over, to Community College of Philadelphia (CCP), where they will be able to choose from the same undergraduate courses — more than 70 programs total — that other students have access to.

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“We’re certain we can find something that will interest them,” said CCP president Dr. Donald Guy Generals.

The program is tentatively scheduled to begin in January with room for 15 participants.

Jamie Gullen, an attorney with Community Legal Services of Philadelphia (CLS) who works on expungements, said the program is “a novel concept” — in part because felony expungement is almost impossible in Pennsylvania, and that record makes it hard for people to get jobs.

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​”Barreries are really extreme, especially for felony convictions,” Gullen said. “There’s over 55 different licenses and occupations that have restrictions on felony criminal records. … you’re barred for life if you have certain felony convictions.”

CLS sees more than 1,000 people a year seeking help with criminal record issues — 20 percent of whom are young adults, Gullen said.

“If a young person is able to get into that program, get that felony expunged, they could go to CCP, get certified as a nurse, go into home health care, and not have that barrier,” she said.

Future Forward, currently considered a pilot program, is in part funded by Shop-Rite stores. Participants will have a case manager, will work with CCP’s Fox Rothschild Center reentry support program, and must remain arrest free for a year after completing the program to have their record expunged.

They also must be eligible for federal funding, cannot have more than one prior non-violent misdemeanor arrest, no outstanding warrants, and must meet the College’s admission requirements.

“We could spend $40,000 a year to incarcerate someone in state prison, with a recidivism rate of 63 percent,” Wiliams said. “From a far left-wing Mother Teresa perspective or a far right wing return on investment perspective, the approach doesn’t work.”

“Now, they’re going to have a chance to get an education.”