State, Philly officials talk reforms to cut prison population

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(Tom MacDonald / WHYY)

(Tom MacDonald / WHYY)

The National Forum on Criminal Justice met in Philadelphia Monday morning, talking problems and possible solutions. 

Mayor Jim Kenney recounted when he had an “aha” moment hearing one prison inmate’s story and why it’s so hard to land a job after doing time.

“I’m standing next to this kid he’s from South Philadelphia we’re talking about what neighborhood he was from.  I asked him what he did before he was in jail.He looked at me like I was nuts and said ‘I have sold drugs since I was 14 years old.’  It kind of hit me, you never had skills or a job,” Kenney said.

Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel says changing the system is tough.

“We really believe in reforming criminal justice because it needs reform, if you look at historic outcomes at our response to criminal justice, it’s abysmal and nobody should be OK with it,” he said.

In addition to helping ex-offenders find jobs, Kenney says his goal is improving educational opportunities to keep kids from heading to prison in the first place. 

Kenney’s administration is looking to cut the city prison population by one third.  Some of that is to be accomplished by finding ways for more people to await trial at home, possibly on home confinement.  In April, it was awarded at $3.5 m grant to further that work.

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