By Steve Tawa

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) –Eight young Philadelphians recently arrested — a new crop of nonviolent drug offenders — are part of the first class of a new program that offers educational help, job training and social services support, to avoid prison.

Philadelphia district attorney Seth Williams says the aim of the ‘Choice is Yours’ diversionary program is to reduce recidivism.

“We spend $40,000 a year to send people to state prison, and 73% of the people we send to prison will be re-arrested in two years,” Williams explains.

All costs for the alternative-to-incarceration program are being picked up by the Lenfest and William Penn Foundations.

Those who make the grade will plead no-contest to the pending charges, and their criminal records will be cleared.

They include 26-year-old Felek McCrae.

“I’ll be taking up plumbing and heating, hopefully a master plumber…I can go back into my neighborhood and give back, to teach some of the young guys that there’s a different way to get money, as we say,” McCrae says.

Williams says these offenders “won’t compromise public safety.”

“Being smart on crime doesn’t mean being soft on criminals,” he says.

Williams also says the program will allow prosecutors to focus on career — and truly violent — criminals.

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