PHILADELPHIA (AP) — One-time thief Heber Nixon Jr. has filled out his share of futile job applications. All said being a felon wouldn't stand in his way — but the promised calls from managers never came.
He finally got a second chance when he showed up at a construction site looking for work and found a sympathetic builder.
Now, the city of Philadelphia is making a concerted effort to encourage the hiring of ex-convicts amid a renewed interest nationwide in dealing with high recidivism, growing crime rates and exploding prison populations.
Philadelphia averaged a murder a day the past two years and has been sued to reduce its overcrowded, record-high jail population.
So on his 100th day in office last month, Mayor Michael Nutter announced a program, being headed by an ex-offender, that gives $10,000 a year in municipal tax credits to companies that hire former prisoners and provide them tuition support or vocational training.
"This is one of the best crime-prevention programs we'll ever have," he said.
Initiatives to help former prisoners re-enter society have become a renewed priority across the country as new data shine a spotlight on staggering rates of incarceration and recidivism.
For the first time in U.S. history, more than one of every 100 adults is in jail or prison, a study released in February found. Federal data show about 700,000 people are released from state and federal prisons each year.
Michael Thompson, director of the Council of State Governments Justice Center, said the level of interest in finding ways to keep ex-prisoners from repeat offenses is unprecedented. "It's really quite extraordinary," he said.