By Ayana Jones
PHILADELPHIA — A new initiative aims to help formerly incarcerated individuals transition back into the community and secure employment.
The Urban League of Philadelphia has launched Out4Good, a four-week comprehensive program that offers skills development, workforce readiness, job training and placement for people with criminal records.
The effort comes as African Americans represent nearly 37% of those incarcerated in Pennsylvania. There are more than 170,000 individuals currently on probation and 45,000 incarcerated in state prisons, according to a Brookings report. Nearly 50% of returning citizens have no form of employment in the first year following their release from prison and the average annual earnings of those employed is less than $11,000.
“We cannot turn our back to the number of brothers that are coming out and have paid their dues and not give them an opportunity to come back as a citizen, come back in a meaningful way and come back with a meaningful job,” said Andrea Custis, president and CEO of the ULP.
“You have to give individuals the opportunity to be self-reliant citizens. They have to have an opportunity to take care of themselves and their family and how they do that is through jobs and employment,” she said.
Out4Good piloted earlier this year with positive results. All 10 participants completed the training and 80% secured employment in the culinary, legal and utilities sectors. Successful graduates demonstrated mastery in skills related to workforce readiness, long-term career mapping, professional resume writing and interviewing, cognitive behavior therapy, leadership and emotional agility.
The effort is supported by a three-year grant from Aramark, a food service, facilities and uniform services provider.
“We believe strongly that re-entry programs are critical to reforming the criminal justice system and addressing its disproportionate impact on Black and brown communities,” Ash Hanson, chief diversity and sustainability officer for Aramark, said in a news release.
“We are very encouraged by the initial results of the Out4Good program and its potential to change lives by establishing a direct pathway to rehabilitation.”
ULP and Aramak are working to expand the program to other states, with the goal of impacting thousands of Black and brown individuals during the next three years.
The initiative’s second cohort started on Aug. 10 and the ULP will start recruiting next week for the third group.
“One of the things that is important when we are recruiting is to really assess whether or not you are willing to put the time and the energy in an intensive four-week program,” Custis said.
This effort aligns with the civil rights organization’s advocacy around criminal justice reform.
“When we look at the probation system and you look at the parole system in Pennsylvania, it’s dysfunctional,” Custis added.
“It needs a major overhaul. When you look at criminal justice there is a lot to be reformed in the process and we are going to continue to work on those issues.”
Ayana Jones is a reporter for the Philadelphia Tribune, where this story first appeared.