Community College of Philadelphia offers education to non-violent defendants

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The landmark Community College of Philadelphia?s campus north of Center City is soon to be a laboratory for a law enforcement experiment. (WPVI)

The landmark Community College of Philadelphia's campus north of Center City is soon to be a laboratory for a law enforcement experiment.

Philadelphia's District Attorney and college officials have entered a joint agreement to let nonviolent defendants to go to school there rather than lock them up in prison.

"Instead of trying them, convicting them and sending them to prison and getting a felony conviction, which is an economic death sentence, we're giving them an opportunity to get an education at Community College to improve their lives," District Attorney Seth Williams said.

The D.A. says this is a move to relieve prison overcrowding and unnecessary mass incarceration.

The students will get tuition aid from the state and federal governments.

It's a pilot program that will enroll a maximum of 15 students.

Community College has long had a re-entry from prison program and they say it has been successful in changing a lot of hearts and minds.

"We already have programs that deal with the population of either formerly imprisoned individuals, and now we'll be dealing with individuals before they actually have to go to prison. So we're accustomed to dealing with this population," CCP President Donald Generals said.

"We're going to identify nonviolent felons, we're going to refer them to Community College and to the public defender to review, to see if they're appropriate," Williams said.

Student body reaction is supportive of the school's new mission.

"I think it's a great idea, as long as they're nonviolent criminals, give them a good chance to get a good education, get on the right path in life," Tyvone Wells of West Philadelphia said.

The District Attorney's office and the public defender are now screening and interviewing suspects who might be eligible; their goal is to have the new program up and running in the spring.

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