Philadelphia creates a new city office to support people returning from prison

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney is creating a new city office to coordinate services for formerly incarcerated people who are returning to the community. 

The Office of Reentry Partnerships will be led by Bianca van Heydoorn, currently at Temple University. She'll report to the Deputy Managing Director for Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Vanessa Garrett Harley.

"One big part of the violence prevention strategy is re-entry, because the majority of the shootings and homicides that are done in the city are done by people with a criminal record," Harley said. "And so, you want to get to them before they escalate nto something else."

The office will consolidate a number of separate programs to develop and implement a comprehensive strategy for assisting those returning from prison, according to Harley.

"Philadelphia has some really good programs and other things going on in the re-entry area, but it is not all coordinated, so we have an aligned continuum of services," Harley said.

Creation of the new office coincides with the release of a report from the Philadelphia Reentry Coalition, which found that there's a good base of services, but it's fragmented, leaving gaps such as basic survival help, including rent assistance and medical transport. 

Aviva Tevah, who will be the director of policy and planning for the new office, says, for instance, there's a need for more core job training.

"There are a lot of employment services available, but often that is employment support services as opposed to the actual education and training itself," she said. 

Tevah says with an estimated 25,000 people returning to the community each year, everyone benefits if they can become productive assets to the community.

"Our neighborhoods will be safer and stronger if we support people," she said.