By Paul Kurtz and Syma Chowdhry
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Two weeks after addressing the nation’s police chiefs (see related story), US attorney general Eric Holder returned to Philadelphia, this time to observe and meet with ex-offenders taking part in an innovative program.
Holder was here to get a look at the inner workings of the federal Re-Entry Court, a locally developed program that gives felons a chance to shave time off their parole by taking part in productive activities such as job hunting, community service, or education.
Holder says this would prevent them from becoming a repeat offender.
“Give people a chance. Give people the skills they need so they can be successful once they come home once they leave the system,” Holder said.
The Re-Entry Court program started seven years ago — helping ex-offenders stay out of jail.
“We are 40 percent over capacity in the federal prison system. We are at a point where we have to do things differently,” Holder said.
And Philadelphia is leading the way.
Last month, Mayor Nutter and City Council introduced an ordinance amending the code to replace the term “ex-offender” to “returning citizen.”
Something Holder supports.
“By using different terms it changes how we view people initially. But then that is backed up by the kinds of programs that we have seen in Philadelphia today,” Holder said.
Joseph Young, a 34-year-old convicted drug dealer, is a graduate of the 52-week course and is now an emergency medical technician. He told those still going through the program to keep going and good things will happen.
“I had enough,” he told them. “I was in jail and I made up my mind the moment I went in there that I want to get out and do the right thing.”
The attorney general was clearly impressed.
“What I have seen up here is, I think, a great example of what we want to do on a nationwide basis,” Holder said. “It’s something that is a priority for me, for this Justice Department, and for the president.”