Citywide re-entry programs put ex-offenders to work.
She also fears that a recent tax-incentive designed to encourage businesses to hire ex-offenders will now only be available for employers hiring MORE’s graduates, excluding people from ReNew and other area programs. Izenman says the new rules will actually undermine the goal of getting former prisoners jobs.
“I think it limits the pool of potential employees. So it cuts out people who just go and apply on their own and it cuts out other re-entry programs,” she says.
But MORE Interim Director Harper says that limiting the tax incentive will give employers the confidence necessary to hire a former prisoner.
“This is a good idea because it ensures the employer that the participant/employee has met specific training requirements and that they come with the supportive, wrap-around services that can better contribute to the probability of their success,” she says. And she adds that the project with Goodwill “is a transitional work model and not the typical sheltered workshop ... although sheltered workshops are Goodwill’s specialty, this model is a hybrid of the best of both environments.”
People getting out of prison are quickly confronted with a number of financial obligations, from court fees to paying for mandatory drug testing. Freeman had to have a new phone line installed for his electronic monitoring anklet. “I tried to get the cheapest plan possible because I don’t want a lot of bills if I don’t have a job.”
In addition to these debts, prisoners have their own self-perceptions to battle with. Programs like Philly ReNew help Freeman and others plan for their future and think through their criminal background. Eric Vaughn, a 41-year-old Philly ReNew participant who spent six months in prison after selling drugs to an undercover cop, says the program has already changed the way he looks at things. “It’s not really about my criminal background. It’s about how I see myself,” he says.
And the day PW went to press, at least 17 ReNew participants found gainful employment.
In September, Freeman hopes to begin studying social work at the Community College of Philadelphia.
“I want to work with kids who are in the same sort of position that I was in,” he says. “Kids at a certain age have a choice.”
He says that kids today don’t respect the squeaky-clean social workers from other neighborhoods and backgrounds.
“Me, as a black man, who grew up with the struggle they did, I’ll be able to share something.”
Daniel Denvir is a freelance writer who recently moved to Philadelphia from Ecuador.
City Hall's program to provide tax breaks for the hiring of ex-offenders hasn't enrolled a single business. Critics say the program has been a confusing mess from the get-go.
PW's Summer Guide 2014