Challenges facing ex-offenders the focus of Germantown forum

 A Wednesday night forum in Germantown focused on the causes of poverty, and re-entry issues facing ex-offenders. (Michelle Barrett/for NewsWorks)

A Wednesday night forum in Germantown focused on the causes of poverty, and re-entry issues facing ex-offenders. (Michelle Barrett/for NewsWorks)

Helping ex-inmates return to society after prison was the focal issue at a Wednesday morning forum hosted by state Rep. Stephen Kinsey at First Presbyterian Church of Germantown.

The panel featured representatives from programs who work with ex-inmates including Sisters Returning Home, Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services (RISE), the Pennsylvania Prison Society, The Center for Retuning Citizens (TCRC) and Project 4Ever Striving.

The discussion also touched on the environment from which many prisoners-to-be come.

“The prison problem that we have is primarily related to drug activity,” said Eighth District City Councilwoman Cindy Bass. “People call Philadelphia a city of neighborhoods. We can think about them as small towns, and these small towns are being destroyed.”

Touching on last year’s crime statistics from Germantown’s 19144 zip code — five homicides, 39 rapes, 222 robberies, 291 aggravated assaults, 483 burglaries, 901 thefts and 70 auto thefts — speakers cited the need for accessible help before someone walks a criminal path toward incarceration.

“The ‘War On Drugs’ was a war on one front, attempting to take out supply, but it didn’t focus at all on the demand part. We continue to have addiction,” said John Wetzel, Department of Corrections Secretary. “So, I think the Affordable Healthcare Act is a potential game changer at this point.”

Residents weigh in

YahNe Ndgo, a mother in Germantown, noted that she thinks neighborhoods are being set up for failure.

“The way the schoolyards are set up, they look like prison yards,” she said.

Drugs, alcohol abuse, poverty, education, employment and opportunities in Philadelphia were all named as contributing factors.

“If we address all the issues surrounding poverty,” said William Hart, executive director of RISE, “we would not have the same discourse and conversation that we’re having about reentry right now.”

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