PASCEP re-entry programs benefit the community

Temple’s Pan-African Studies Community Education Program is helping people who were incarcerated get jobs.

According to a report from CLASP, a non-profit that provides aid to low-income people, nearly two-thirds of people who were incarcerated are arrested again within three years of their release.

With citizens constantly cycling through the criminal justice system, re-entry workshops and courses are critical in decreasing recidivism rates. Re-entry programs offer assistance to citizens looking to reintegrate into society following incarceration.

Temple’s Pan-African Studies Community Education Program offers several programs that educate and assist re-entry citizens, like the “Orange is the New Black: Inside Reentry” course. This program brings people who were formerly incarcerated and criminal justice system officials together to discuss issues like mass incarceration.

After spending time in prison, often for years at a time, it’s difficult for citizens to readjust to society. There’s difficulty in gaining access to jobs, homes, clothing and transportation. Re-entry workshops and courses provide citizens an outlet to find and discuss finding these resources and taking advantage of them.

According to The National Resource Council, previously incarcerated citizens likely face a lower chance of getting a job, as many companies will not hire employees with a criminal background. And if they are hired, their wages are significantly lower.

Re-entry resources generate important discussions and lessons that may not have been had while serving. I’m relieved to see our university doing its part because Philadelphia has the largest incarceration rate per capita of the top 10 largest American cities, according to a report from Billy Penn.

“[The course provides] resources, conversation, opportunity for re-entry citizens to also connect with those in the judicial system,” said Ulicia Lawrence-Oladeinde, the director of PASCEP. “There’s parole officers that come to the classes, so that they can talk about the things that affect them staying out and being productive citizens.”

The United States has 5 percent of the world’s population, but 25 percent of the world’s prisoners. Despite this staggering statistic, not all states offer re-entry workshop opportunities, despite the tremendous differences they could be making to the lives of re-entry citizens.

At PASCEP, 20 of the 50 people who Jeffrey Abramowitz, the course’s instructor, has worked with in the past month found jobs. Abramowitz served a five-year prison sentence at the United States Penitentiary, Canaan — a high-security federal prison in Waymart, Pennsylvania — and was released in 2015.

Courses like Abramowitz’s provide re-entry citizens with a basic understanding of certain skills, like eye contact, a strong handshake and posture — which are also known as soft skills. These are important for any job and aren’t always taught in the criminal justice system.
“We’re going to start teaching some of the soft skills,” Lawrence-Oladeinde said. “One of the things I’m big on is emotional intelligence and critical thinking. If you’re not exposed to it, how will you know that you need it?”

“Many people that come home from prison, or go through the criminal justice system, a lot of times don’t have the skills necessary in order to really be proficient at what they do or to succeed at the jobs they take,” Abramowitz said. “That soft skill development doesn’t happen when you’re in the criminal justice system. It needs to happen outside of it.”

For this reason, it’s incredibly important to promote re-entry programs, like PASCEP’s Orange is the New Black course. By offering re-entry citizens a method for navigating through the criminal justice system while also providing the resources to find jobs, the transition becomes much easier.

“There’s so much that can be done from the grassroots, from students to community leaders to parole officers, everyone has an obligation to try and improve the system,” Abramowitz said.

Having access to these resources and services is something that needs to be cel

We need to continue to make these courses available for re-entry citizens to ensure they are given the opportunity to flourish in society.

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