Pennsylvania Summit Examines Issues Facing Offenders As They Reenter Society
Web Editor - Published: September 15, 2011
“We have to come up with realistic goals. You can have all the reentry programs in the world, but if someone’s mind isn’t made up to do it, it doesn’t matter,” said founder and president of the National Exhoodus Council Malik Aziz as he spoke as part of the first panel discussion – Law Enforcement and Ex-offenders’ Reentry Initiatives – during the Pennsylvania Reentry Summit held on Tuesday, September 13th on Widener Law’s Harrisburg campus.

Hosted by Widener’s Law and Government Institute, the “Pennsylvania Reentry Summit: Exploring and Examining Innovative Reentry Strategies for the 21st Century” drew a substantial crowd and brought together distinguished criminal justice experts, lawmakers, and representatives of organizations that help ex-offenders reintegrate into society. Pennsylvania Commonwealth Court Judge Emeritus Doris A. Smith-Ribner organized the event, which featured four panels. Following the panels, Zygmont A. Pines, Esq., the Court Administrator of Pennsylvania, also spoke on Pennsylvania Judiciary Initiatives.

The program opened with a videoconference greeting from Widener Law Dean Linda L. Ammons, who spoke from the Ruby R. Vale Moot Courtroom on the Delaware campus, saying, “Welcome to the Widener University School of Law and the Law and Government Institute’s Reentry Summit. We are extremely pleased to work with Judge Doris Smith-Ribner and all of you on this important subject.”

Law and Government Institute Director John L. Gedid then introduced Judge Doris Smith-Ribner, who thanked Gedid, Dean Ammons, Harrisburg Vice Dean Robyn L. Meadows, and Widener Law and Government Institute Secretary Sandy Graeff. Turning to the topic of the summit, she said, “Reentry is a word that is defined simply as the process and experience of an incarcerated person reentering society,” before noting that we have a duty to “prevent people from re-offending and returning to prison.”

During the panel on the Collateral Consequences of a Conviction, Christopher C. Gowen, the Senior Staff Attorney for the American Bar Association Criminal Justice Section, said, “There is no question in my mind that the number one biggest problem here is employment.” The statement echoed a recurring theme of the summit about the important role that jobs play in successful reintegration.

The Best Reentry Practices and Policies panel featured information on how best to help ex-offenders reintegrate and looked specifically at programs designed to help them find jobs. The final panel looked at potential policy remedies and featured several governmental officials, including Pennsylvania Secretary of Corrections John Wetzel; Amy L. Solomon, senior advisor to the assistant attorney general in the U.S. Justice Department; Ronald G. Waters, Pennsylvania Representative and Chair of the Legislative Black Caucus; Pennsylvania State Senator Stewart J. Greenleaf; and John Tuttle from the Pennsylvania Board of Probation and Parole.

The event concluded with a reception sponsored by Goodwill Industries.