NO DISCRIMINATION in HIRING of EX-CONS

Sep 29, 2009 at 8:19 pm Leave a comment

This article originally appeared at The Temple News on Sept. 29, 2009.

Hiring ex-offenders gets Philly businesses a tax break, but Temple has no specific policy.

According to a recent study, 40,000 ex-convicts from federal, state and local prisons come to Philadelphia each year. One-third of them reside in the areas surrounding Temple.

Buzz surrounding the Philadelphia Eagles has revolved primarily around the team’s new quarterback, ex-convict Michael Vick, after he signed in August. What many Philadelphians aren’t hearing, though, is that the franchise was offered a tax break, as any company would, by the city’s Mayor’s Office for the Re-entry of Ex-Offenders.

The Eagles turned down the tax break, which MORE grants to encourage companies to hire ex-felons in an effort to reduce repeat incarceration.

Vick’s situation represents a larger issue surrounding employment opportunities for those released from prison.

While Temple doesn’t have a specific hiring policy for ex-offenders, the university does not discriminate, said Ray Betzner, assistant vice president of university communications.

“We do have programs that hire as many local residents as we can,” Betzner said. “That’s very important to us, and we’ve been making great strides.”

Temple’s Community Outreach and Hiring Program targets eight communities surrounding Main Campus to provide employment and career development opportunities. In 2006, 102 local residents were hired from these communities.

Temple officials involved with the hiring of employees at the university – Harry Young, associate vice president of employment, and William Hart, director of community outreach and hiring – did not return requests for comment on the university’s hiring of ex-offenders.

A 2007 report by two University of Pennsylvania professors found that 40,000 ex-cons from federal, state and local prisons come to the city per year.

Wayne Welsh, a Temple criminal justice professor, said one in four men in Philadelphia have been or are currently under some kind of criminal justice supervision.

“There are so many ex-offenders running around in the poorest communities in Philly,” Welsh said. “Chances are, we’re coming into contact with a number of ex-offenders everyday…whether at Temple or the bus stop.”

In 2005, one-third of offenders returning to Philadelphia lived in neighborhoods around Temple, including Fairhill, North Central, Hartranft and Strawberry Mansion, the UPenn report said.

Yet few services target this population. In Fairhill, there are seven organizations that provide services to ex-offenders for the 1,101 ex-prisoners who returned in 2005.

According to the report, 63 percent of ex-offenders are arrested for a felony, serious misdemeanor or parole violation within three years of release. Statistically, 47 percent of these will be re-convicted, and 41 percent will return to prison.

With the number of inmates skyrocketing in recent years – Philadelphia Prison System numbers doubled to 8,000 from 1985 to 2005, Deputy Mayor Everett Gillison decided to implement a Re-entry Task Force last spring.

Welsh is part of the new task force.

“The problem is we have all these different agencies, and they all do different things,” Welsh said. “The basic mission is to develop a strategic plan, to bring together all these different agencies in a somewhat cohesive way.”

Welsh said the task force will begin by taking inventory. Then, they’ll try to fill in the gaps with existing resources. Members of the task force hope to receive funding from the federal government’s Second Chance program, he said.

Universities in Philadelphia can play a large role in data organization and, like Temple, have the opportunity to employ high numbers of ex-offenders, but they aren’t the only ones.

Currently in Philadelphia, “there’s some strong support for doing a better job on re-entry,” Welsh said. He knows it won’t be easy, he said, but he remains optimistic.

“There are many other employees in the city and region who could potentially hire large numbers of ex-offenders, if they could be convinced ex-offenders have the skills or potential skills to be good, productive employees.”

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