Heralded by many as the “Next Great American City,” the fifth largest metropolitan area in the United States, Philadelphia, is on the move. Real estate developers are transforming an area between Market and Chestnut streets spanning from 11th to 12th streets once considered the epicenter of Philadelphia into East Market, a towering and expansive structure which will be home to residential units, restaurants, retail outlets, and office space. Looking westward, a cluster of gleaming glass and steel skyscrapers which rise above the end of the Walnut Street Bridge and which appear to obfuscate the line of demarcation between the City of Philadelphia’s downtown business district, University City, and the neighborhoods surrounding Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania come into view. These developments are helping to create excitement about Philadelphia. Despite the perceived “renewed prosperity” of Philadelphia’s downtown business district and University City, the chief executive officer of Philadelphia—its mayor—like most mayors of American cities, is grappling with challenges of continued growth, sustainability, and the need to develop “human capital.” There is a straight line to recidivism: a key challenge, sustainability, and renewed prosperity in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia has a reported recidivism rate of 65.3 percent and a reincarceration rate of 41.1 percent—a set of circumstances which impacts upon the amount of money it can allocate to attract and retain multinational corporations that bring new jobs and spend on infrastructure, public transportation and education. Each month, approximately 2,500 formerly incarcerated souls—men and women—pour into Philadelphia’s neighborhoods, uneducated and unemployable. These souls represent an untapped target market for “human capital” which begs to be developed, “human capital” which can be utilized by corporate tenants who occupy the growing cluster of office towers in Center City Philadelphia and dot the city’s westward skyline. Operation Fresh Start ™, which is the brainchild of The Honorable James M. DeLeon, a highly respected veteran jurist in the criminal court division of the city of Philadelphia’s municipal court, is a significant “piece of the puzzle” to moving formerly incarcerated souls who flood monthly into Philadelphia as part of the “human capital” equation. Two of the components of Operation Fresh Start™, The “City Council Mentorship Initiative” and the “District Attorney Mentorship Initiative”, which Judge DeLeon designed, seeks to create a pathway for the 2,500 formerly incarcerated souls who return to Philadelphia each month. The “pathway” is a “mentoring pathway” –by which these fully and successfully vetted 2,500 souls would serve as mentors for at-risk youths. It is also serves as a pathway that decreases the economic burden of Philadelphia’s taxpayers.
Why is there a need for both a “City Council Mentorship” Initiative and a “District Attorney Mentorship” Initiative? Judge DeLeon sees the creation of pathways for reintegration and redemption for formerly incarcerated souls as an “all hands on deck” proposition. Every level of government must play a role in helping to reduce and eradicate recidivism and developing Philadelphia’s “human capital” and renewing its prosperity. Mentors, fully and successfully vetted individuals who are formerly incarcerated souls, would receive, among other things, under the City Council Mentorship Initiative, a “Letter to the Board of Pardons from City Council” personally attesting to the mentor’s successful mentorship. Additionally, there would be a “Letter of Understanding” between the district attorney’s office and the city council’s office regarding the benefits of the city council’s mentorship Initiative. This “Letter of Understanding” would be supplemented through the State Supreme Court, the Governor, and the district attorney’s office that the mentor is a participant in the City Council’s Mentorship Initiative. Similarly, under the District of Attorney’s Mentorship Initiative, a letter would be generated for the mentor addressed to the board of pardons “personally attesting to the mentor’s successful mentorship”.
How would mentorship training be administered? When it was brought to Judge DeLeon’s attention that Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, a premiere mentorship organization in the United States, had recently aligned a part of its program with Job Corps to provide much needed mentorship, he decided that it would have the needed expertise to successfully train formerly incarcerated souls in mentoring and to make mentoring safe under both the City Council’s Mentorship Initiative and the District Attorney’s Mentorship Initiative.
“Big Brothers Big Sisters of America has the capability to train any Philadelphia citizen that is applying for a governor’s pardon or clemency and that individual can take and complete its mentoring program and after successfully completing it, can be placed as a mentor for one of the endangered youth who is enrolled in Job Corps, involved in a Social Services program, or in the juvenile court system in a safe environment. The upside is the youth is being provided with legitimate and positive real life options from an individual who has walked the same road and a letter is generated by either city council or the district attorney’s office to the board of pardons attesting to the Mentor’s community or volunteer service—something that will be considered as a factor in the pardon application,” explained Judge DeLeon.
The mentoring skills acquired by formerly incarcerated souls through Operation Fresh Start’s ™ City Council’s Mentorship Initiative and District Attorney’s Mentorship Initiative can lead to their employment in related fields such as youth counseling or social work. At the same time, the City Council’s Mentorship Initiative and District Attorney’s Mentorship Initiative will provide Philadelphia’s youths—its next generation of leaders, husbands, fathers, wives, and mothers with a life line in the form of mentors who will help them overcome the dysfunctional environment they were born into. An environment that could put them on the fast track to prison or to an early grave and to deal with anger management and conflict resolution issues.
If we want a city that we can all be excited about…a city that offers renewed prosperity for all of its citizens…a city that attracts and retains businesses, which provide employment opportunities…a city that develops and invests in its “human capital”…a city that operates on the principle of inclusiveness, then we must embrace and implement, with all deliberate speed, Operation Fresh Start’s ™ City Council’s Mentorship Initiative and District Attorney’s Mentorship Initiative.
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