Kenney calls for better ex-con reentry programs
Jim Kenney addressed a small group Monday at the Center for Returning Citizens about how, if elected mayor, he could improve economic and social opportunities for Philadelphia’s formerly incarcerated.
Many of those present criticized the Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services (RISE) for its ineffectual management and check-list approach to reentry services.
The program itself isn’t bad, Tracy Fisher told Kenney. Fisher, the founder of Gateway to Reentry, spent 22 years in federal prison and came through RISE after his release. He believes any re-entry program is a good thing. The problem with RISE is its leadership, and the mayor’s lack of involvement in everything except the ceremonies and budget signatures.
He criticized the program for continuously rubber-stamping ex-cons just to meet number requirements, and also noted the “one-size-fits-all” approach to providing services.
“RISE will get you job for two days and put on the books that you’re employed,” Fisher said.
For almost an hour, Kenney fielded questions and concerns like Fisher’s. He mentioned moves he’d made on City Council like the push to decriminalize small amounts of marijuana and his vow to end stop-and-frisk policing.
“Stop and Frisk is an extremely egregious program,” he said. “I have never been stopped and frisked in my life.”
“Why’s that?” someone in the audience responded.
“You know why.”
His remark won laughter, and some of the attendees notably warmed up to the white veteran city councilman as he continued addressing the issues.
If elected, Kenney said that he would establish a multilateral relationship with the municipal departments, community college, and business leaders. He would try to work especially close with leaders in building trades to identify “dignified jobs” that could be filled by those reentering society looking for a second chance.
He also proposed an idea to give city jobs to ex-cons, who could be trained, monitored, and given guidance from within municipal departments.
Kenney noted the issue’s complexity and intimate connection to other big-problem issues like education, and admitted that he’s not sure how his new programs will work. But when the time comes, he said, he will seek the support of smaller on-the-ground programs like Fisher’s Gateway to Reentry in order to better address the needs of this community.
“The only people who know it are the people who live it,” he said. “And I’d be crazy not to seek out the advice from the folks in this room.”