Courts play mentoring matchmaker

Posted: June 13, 2014

THE PHILADELPHIA Court of Common Pleas wants to keep offenders from returning to the courtroom.

To that end, the court system in April introduced a pilot re-entry program called MENTOR, or Mentors Empowering Now to Overcome Recidivism.

The program, started by Common Pleas Judge Michael Erdos, matches civilian volunteers, or mentors, with "participants" who have pleaded guilty, in hopes of guiding them toward successful re-entry into society.

Successful participants would have a significant amount of probation time taken off their sentences - typically a year.

Currently, 23 percent of convicted offenders on probation or parole in Philadelphia are rearrested within a year. For incarcerated offenders newly released, that number jumps to 38 percent, according to the courts.

Yesterday, five defendants were paired with mentors after pleading guilty. The program had inducted its first three participants last week.

"I feel like we're saying: 'Welcome back to the community. How can we help you be successful?' " said Judge Lisa Rau, one of the organizers of the program.

Rau said she was shocked at the number of people who wanted to help. Applicants varied from ex-offenders and law students to members of community-service organizations and church groups.

Mentor Harris Corbett, 53, of Wilmington, Del., said that as a Christian he is volunteering to teach the participants to "earn, not take."

"I want to help those less fortunate than I am," Corbett said. "It's my way to give back."

Participants must meet regularly with their mentors, attend Erdos' monthly status hearings and attend meetings offered by the Philadelphia Mayor's Office of Reintegration Services, or RISE.

Because it's a pilot program, Rau said, only 30 members will be inducted in the initial year, with hopes of expansion in the future.

"I think [the program is] going to offer benefits both to returning citizens and the community as a whole," Judge Erdos said.

On Twitter: @PatriciaMadej

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