Yesterday, the Federal Court building on 6th and Market Streets was home to a graduation ceremony. Family members, lawyers, friends lined courtroom benches—shoulder to shoulder—with flowers and balloons.
The graduation ceremony was held for the US District Court’s Supervision to Aid Reentry (STAR) program.
The STAR program offers innovative and comprehensive support to serious offenders on supervised release from prison. This support helps participants through a number of the struggles of reentering society. These struggles include finding a job, obtaining a GED or dealing with bad credit, among others. The program requires former inmates to report twice a month in front of a collaborative court team who reviews each participant’s progress. The team then determines whether each participant should receive credit for the appearance or, if behavior merits, a sanction. Successful completion of the 52-week program results in a one year reduction of the supervisory leave sentence. The program is run by Federal Magistrate Judges Tim Rice and Phil Restrepo with the help of the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
Here is how the ceremony was structured: The former inmates were individually called to the podium before a judge (usually the same judge who gave the original sentence). The judge listened to the inmate’s accomplishments since the supervised release. These accomplishments ranged from going back to school to being promoted to managerial position at work to trying out for the Philadelphia Union.
The laundry list of accomplishments was inspiring. The court saw true inspiration, however, when the judge asked for a participant’s family to stand up. These families were made up of wives, children, mothers and fathers. Once standing, the courtroom gave the individual, and the support system, a most deserved applause.
Every participating judge offered his/her sincere congratulations, noting how important the accomplishments were to the judicial staff too—justice was served, retribution was realized and lives were improved.
After every graduate appeared before the judge, Deputy Mayor and Managing Director Richard Negrin gave the Keynote address. “This is your moment,” he told the 12 lauded graduates who stood up in the packed, supportive courtroom.
The STAR Program is a success. With a participant recidivism rate of 14%, it serves as a model for similar programs across the country. In Philadelphia, 40% of released prisoners are back in prison within three years.
Yesterday’s ceremony was a celebration—it was a celebration of justice system—of Federal Magistrate Judges Tim Rice and Phil Restrepo for overseeing the program—but the biggest celebration of all was for the graduating class, a group of twelve who struggled and later succeeded. It is the spirit of these individuals that is worth being proud of; it is this kind of spirit that will keep the City of Philadelphia moving forward.
Congratulations to every graduating participant and to the collaborative team of the STAR Program for their success.