A women’s alternative to jail on the move in Germantown

With a public auction of its current location scheduled for next week, New Directions for Women Inc. is looking ahead to a long-standing plan to move and expand its services.

Carolyn Stewart, executive director of the alternative correctional facility for women currently housed in a former convent building on the defunct Germantown Settlement Charter School campus, said her group still wants to move to 4969 Wakefield St. in the hopes of expanding its services.

“We still have planning ongoing around moving to Wakefield,” Stewart said, adding that her group would also negotiate with the future owners of their current site, but that the 1950s-era building needs rehab work.

Founded in 1987, New Directions provides an alternative to traditional incarceration for women in the Philadelphia prison system, and has 25 beds. The year-long, phased program aims to provide a different path than traditional incarceration, and provides services tailored to the specific needs of female offenders.

However, the group wants to expand its services to include women coming from the state and federal systems, and the current building would need significant renovation to bring it up to state standards and make it eligible for accreditation by the American Correctional Association.

A move to the Wakefield Street site, an empty 18,000 square-foot former industrial building, would make room for 36 beds, and allow New Directions to offer more services for life skills, job readiness, case management and counseling. The client base would remain as it is now, serving local women.

“We don’t go outside of the county of Philadelphia,” Stewart said. “They either have to have been from here and are coming back here, or they’re moving here to Philadelphia and are under probation from Philadelphia.”

Initially, in 2009, there was some opposition from nearby neighbors concerned with the safety of bringing a correctional facility to the neighborhood. Building owner Stan Smith got needed zoning approvals on the property, which had been zoned residential despite decades of industrial use.

He said he is now waiting on final approvals for a few design modifications before his permits are released and he can start renovation in earnest.

The delay has nothing to do with neighborhood opposition, he said, and everything to do with the “painful” pace of things at City Hall. “We’ve been caught up with the nonsense in the city of Philadelphia with not having enough people down there,” Smith said.

Stewart said to her, the important thing to remember is that the women New Directions serves are often from Germantown or nearby neighborhoods anyway, so the idea that the facility would bring an outside criminal element is a fallacy.

“I’m helping your sister and your cousin and maybe your aunt or your mother. It’s what we do,” she said. “We are a very structured environment. This is not a halfway house.”

While New Directions has no set timetable for its move, the group’s future may come into clearer focus soon. Bidders will gather at an auction next Thursday for the 40,000 square feet of buildings on the Settlement campus at 4807 Germantown Ave. The sale will seek to pay off a $2,105,016 debt on an original $3.5 million loan.

 

Contact Amy Z. Quinn at azquinn@planphilly.com

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