Alternative to prison is second chance for some Philly offenders

Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams stood side-by-side Wednesday with some lawbreakers to congratulate and then warn them. The eight young men had just completed the first stage of a new program aiming to help them get back on track.

The alternative-to-incarceration program called “The Choice is Yours,” gives nonviolent felony drug offenders a chance to avoid prison.

Felek McCrae said a lot of his friends would love to be in this program too.

“It’s a second chance. You need a second chance at life,” said McCrae. “Sometimes you make the wrong decisions at the wrong time.”

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With his second chance, McCrae wants to become a master plumber.

“So I can go back and give back to my community and show the young guys there’s another way to get money,” he said.

Williams said the goal is to free resources to target truly violent criminals.

“After a year of complying with the program, learning the vocational skills, learning how to improve their literacy, they will have a graduation and they will not have the felony convictions,” Williams said. “They will not have criminal records at all.”

Williams said the program is no pushover.

“If they fail the program, they get rearrested,” he said. “They go out there with their boys and they’re selling crack again, they’re going to go to jail for a minimum of one year. The choice is theirs.”

Williams said the program will track successes and failures rigorously to show whether it truly saves tax dollars. The program is now funded from the Lenfest and William Penn foundations.

Guillermo Soto, who wants to join the military, said his mom is pushing him.

“She’s like, ‘Do it, don’t let down, don’t quit school like you did before.’ So I got my GED with the program,” Soto said. “I’m doing a good thing now.”

Soto and the others will serve as mentors to the second class of participants, who just began orientation.

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