March 21, 2012: A new diversionary program aimed at giving certain nonviolent defendants in Philadelphia a second chance at life is now underway at the District Attorney’s Office. This innovative alternative-to-incarceration program is called The Choice is Yours (TCY) and it offers nonviolent felony drug offenders a chance to avoid prison sentences and instead receive education and workforce training, along with social services and supports. The primary aim of TCY is to reduce recidivism—without compromising public safety—and help chart a path to more successful and productive futures for participants. This allows the District Attorney’s Office to focus our limited resources on the career and truly violent criminals in Philadelphia.
With funding from the Lenfest and William Penn Foundations, TCY was developed by the District Attorney’s Office and Public/Private Ventures (P/PV), a Philadelphia-based nonprofit focused on improving outcomes for youth and young adults. JEVS Human Services is serving as the lead implementing organization; the Center for Literacy and the Pennsylvania Prison Society are key partners. The program would not be possible without the cooperation and input from our partners in the First Judicial District, President Judge Marsha Neifield and the Defenders Association of Philadelphia.
The TCY model here in Philadelphia was developed with information from promising practices in reentry and alternative sentencing programs across the country, particularly the Back on Track program in San Francisco. Prior to Mr. Williams’ election in 2009, he met with then San Francisco District Attorney Kamala Harris to learn more about the Back on Track program and how it could help with prosecution in Philadelphia. The goal is to serve seventy-five participants annually. It is estimated that the cost savings to the Commonwealth will be substantial by enrolling defendants in this program instead of incarcerating them. Currently it costs around 40 thousand dollars a year to keep someone in prison; the TCY program will only cost five to eight thousand dollars a year per participant. All costs associated with the program are currently being paid by generous donations from the Lenfest and William Penn Foundations.
The program was officially launched at the Criminal Justice Center on February 27, 2012. District Attorney Seth Williams told participants at the time, “It is about being smart on crime, not just tough. We are investing a lot instead of sending you to prison. We are helping you to become the person you can be: read better, go to school, and get a job. That choice is yours.”
“The requirements of the program will provide the skills and opportunities that these young adults need to be contributing members of society,” said Mr. Williams. “Successful participants will be far less likely to end up in prison, reducing state and city costs and painting a much brighter future for these individuals.”
“The Choice is Yours is about helping participants overcome personal barriers to success,” said President and CEO of JEVS Human Services Jay Spector. “Individuals enrolled in TCY have lives further complicated by criminal records and court involvement. JEVS Human Services is pleased to provide the comprehensive case management, job readiness, life skills, job placement and retention services needed to help clients negotiate these barriers, make better life choices and succeed. Moreover, our services will be enhanced through our partnerships with the PA Prison Society and the Center for Literacy.”
On March 19, 2012, the initial group of participants successfully completed the first stage of TCY. Eight participants finished the extensive four week orientation process, and are now on their way to a more productive future without the stigmatism of a jail sentence hanging over their heads. Along with beginning apprenticeships, educational and social support programs, these eight young men will also serve as mentors to the second class of TCY participants, who began their orientation process on Monday, March 19th. When this second class completes their rigorous orientation process they will serve as mentors to the next class of participants in April.
During this first year, Public/Private Ventures (P/PV) will assess the program’s implementation and short-term outcomes. “We are excited to be part of this team, and look forward to delivering an unbiased assessment of the pilot phase that can help inform future efforts—both on TCY and alternative-to-incarceration programs across the country,” says Nadya K. Shmavonian, president of P/PV.
The following eight young men have now proceeded to the next step of TCY with the goal of successfully completing the entire program in 2013.
Tyrie Rorie is 29 years old and currently works full-time five days a week from 11pm- 7am; he attends the TCY program during the day and has made it to every single class on time. Mr. Rorie would like to enroll in a vocational skills training program with the goal of becoming a registered nurse.
Felek McCrae is 26 years old and his goal is to enter a vocational training program to become a licensed plumber and private contractor.
19 year old Terrence Terry’s goals are to further his education and enroll in a local college. Once in college Mr. Terry would like to study business and eventually own his own Import/Export business.
Guillermo Soto is 21 years old and he would also like to further his education and enroll in community college. Mr. Soto would like to become a police officer in the future.
29 year old Christopher Renner would like to earn his GED and enter a vocational training program. Mr. Renner would like to become an electrician in the future.
Alfonzo Hernandez is 19 years old and his goal is to achieve his high school diploma, and learn a trade by enrolling in college or a vocational skills training program. Mr. Hernandez would like to become a Tractor Trailer truck driver.
26 year old Oscar Pagan would like to enter a vocational skills training school for HVAC or architectural drafting. His goal is to become an HVAC Technician.
Hassan Johnson is 19 years old and his goal is to obtain a part-time job and enroll in a local college or training institute. Mr. Johnson would like to study criminal justice and eventually become a juvenile counselor.