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Improving on Success: TCY Evaluation Points to New Services

By Nigel Bowe, Executive Director of Diversion Services, JEVS Human Services
& Jennifer Thompson, Director, Equal Measure

Tasheed Carr is a doting father who had had a successful college basketball career at Saint Joseph’s University and a professional career in an NBA development league overseas, but a series of setbacks found him facing a five-year prison sentence for first-time felony drug sales. The Choice is Yours (TCY), a Philadelphia-based diversion program, gave him an opportunity to undo what he calls “the biggest mistake of my life.” Today, he has a clean record and is running a youth development organization and coaching up-and-coming basketball players.

Developed in 2012 by the Philadelphia District Attorney’s office in partnership with the Defender Association of Philadelphia and the Municipal Court, TCY is modeled on Back on Track, a program developed in San Francisco under California’s former Attorney General, Kamala Harris. Operated by JEVS Human Services, TCY offers young people education and employment services and a chance for them to re-envision their future through a one-year alternative to trial and sentencing for first-time, non-violent drug offenses. The program was recently expanded to Pennsylvania’s Montgomery County.

In 2019, JEVS collaborated with national evaluation firm Equal Measure to conduct an evaluation of the program. Although TCY was already a successful program that engaged its participants and reduced recidivism, JEVS sought to better understand the “special sauce” that made it work, assessing the core strengths of the program and discovering opportunities to make the program even stronger. Key questions the evaluation asked were: What factors contribute to successful completion of TCY for participants? What is it about the program and/or the participants or other factors that contribute to program effectiveness?

Although the TCY staff was initially wary of the evaluation, fearing the evaluators were there to find failings in the program, the findings and recommendations have been well-received. When staff read the report, they thought “wow, this is us.” It gave us a clearer understanding of what we were doing right and things we could do better, and we responded by using the flexibility and creative thinking that has made us a successful program.

Highlights and Opportunities

Overall, the evaluation found that TCY was a highly successful program, and highlighted two core strengths of the program.

The first was the quality of the program infrastructure and approach, including a defined orientation phase, flexibility in implementation and responsiveness to the needs of the participants, and the ability of JEVS as a large nonprofit with a broad set of social services and expertise to offer holistic supports to participants.

Strategic and emotional attention to partnerships and relationships was the second core strength of the program. Well-defined partnerships with justice system and city offices, a secondary education provider, and a network of local employers benefitted participants, and the deep relationships formed between TCY staff and participants was integral to participant engagement and program completion. “It’s a family…that’s the best word,” said one participant interviewed for the evaluation.

Equal Measure’s findings and recommendations also presented opportunities to refine the program. First, although most participants expressed appreciation for the employment assistance, and considered it a step in the right direction for their lives, many of the jobs were low wage, lacked benefits, and offered no clear opportunities for advancement. Second, even though part of the incentive for participants to join TCY was the opportunity to have the felony charge expunged from their records, few TCY participants took advantage of it.

The quality of the entry-level jobs secured by TCY participants was familiar to program staff but prompted new thinking on more ways for participants to enter and advance in fields with a promising future. The expungement findings were new. Clearly, increasing the number of participants who would have their records cleared was an urgent need that called for creative solutions.

Clearing the Record

Without TCY, the young people who opt into the program would face the possibility of prison sentences and a permanent felony record, making employment, housing assistance, and other social services extremely difficult to access, potentially for their entire lives. Graduation from TCY and a full year without an arrest keeps participants from having a felony conviction on their record. In Pennsylvania, however, an arrest, charges from an arrest, and/or a conviction stay on the record, and although it is not public, the record is available to police, prosecutors, and organizations using FBI records for background investigations.

Erasing arrests and charges requires expungement, a legal order requiring the cooperation of the court, police, and state criminal justice agencies. TCY makes participants eligible to have their records expunged and permanently cleared one year after graduating from the program so long as they have not been re-arrested in that time. Yet the evaluation found that few graduates took advantage of expungement.

Although the evaluation did not assess the reasons why graduates did not pursue expungement, it was clear several factors were at play: participants were not knowledgeable enough about the process and its value, and there was little follow up with graduates in the one year post-program, which is when they would become eligible for expungement. Increasing the number of TCY graduates with successfully expunged records is now an important goal for TCY, and we immediately initiated several reforms to the program to encourage TCY graduates to take this step.

To make participants more knowledgeable about the value and process of expungement, TCY is partnering with Philadelphia Lawyers for Social Equity (PLSE). TCY will sponsor two clinics conducted by PLSE, one for participants as they first enter the program and one in the orientation phase, so participants will understand the importance and the benefits of getting their cases not just dismissed but also expunged.

TCY has also added a third phase of the program: in addition to an enrollment phase and an orientation phase, the program will now have an official expungement phase post-graduation, where participants are contacted monthly by the program. The participants are not required to stay engaged with TCY, but we hope a regular friendly check-in from TCY’s staff to see how things are going and to offer any needed services will be an additional incentive to avoid re-arrest and to pursue expungement.

Our hope is that the enhanced education on expungement, expanded follow up, and assistance from PLSE will result in many more successful TCY graduates benefitting from their arrests being entirely erased from their records.

Refocus on Education and Credentials

Equal Measure’s evaluation findings on the limited employment horizons for TCY participants prompted additional thinking on the program’s current educational training. TCY had an existing partnership with Penn Foster, an accredited online high school completion program and career training school, offering participants without a high school diploma the chance to complete it during the program. But the evaluation findings persuaded us that something more needed to be done. lthough nearly 75% of our participants were placed in employment, the evaluation made clear many participants needed more training if they were going to make a career path for themselves that offered more than a low-wage job.

We worked with our education partner to choose educational sectors with high potential for solid career opportunities and which we believed would appeal to participants: medical, construction, and information technology. Participants will now have a chance to earn a credential in one of these fields.

Now, when a participant enrolls to earn his or her high school diploma, he or she is also able to add in electives geared towards earning a career pathway credential. After the high school program is complete, they will have a few additional weeks to complete the certificate credential in one of those four areas. For example, one of the credentials will be pharmacy technician which partners for job placement with CVS and Walgreen’s.

The credentialing opportunity will be heavily promoted to eligible incoming participants, whether they enter the program with a high school diploma or are completing it with help from the program.

We’re hoping that adding the career pathway credential capability to our high school completion program will allow our graduates to get a good job with a wage that will support them and their families, and which gives them an opportunity for more pay and career advancement. Along with a new focus on clearing their records, we believe TCY will offer even more value to the participants who turn to us for a second chance. Thanks to the evaluation, we had an opportunity to take tangible steps to address issues of equity and economic opportunity affecting our participants, aligning with the larger social justice goals of TCY and JEVS Human Services.


The Results Are In! TCY is Making a Major Impact for Young Offenders

The results are in! JEVS Human Services recently partnered with Equal Measure to conduct a third-party evaluation of our successful The Choice is Yours (TCY).

Launched in February 2012, TCY is adapted from Back on Track, a program developed in San Francisco as a one-year alternative to trial and sentencing for first-time, non-violent drug offenses.  The evaluation of TCY highlights several important impacts:

  • Re-arrest rates for TCY participants are almost half those of a comparison cohort.  The program boasts a 15% recidivism rate, one-year post graduation.  More importantly, less than 17% of graduates had a felony conviction five years post-program.
  • Justice system impacts include cost savings through reduced incarceration rates and shifting judicial system leaders’ perceptions about the efficacy diversion programs.

No less important are the participant outcomes.  The thirteen-month program boasts an 82% graduation rate.  Nearly three-quarters of the participants found and kept jobs during the program, with most being full-time employment.  One in five participants took advantage of educational and skill-building opportunities, including high school diploma completion.

They gave us opportunities that we would never have had in our entire lives. I would not have gotten my diploma this year if not for TCY. I’d probably be in jail if it wasn’t for TCY. It’s taught me so many things since the first day I’ve been here.  – TCY graduate

The report found several factors contributing to the success of the program including (1) the strong partnership between the Philadelphia Office of the District Attorney, judicial system, Defenders Association of Philadelphia and JEVS; (2) the month-long orientation allowing both participants and partners to determine if the program is a good fit for the client and setting them up for success; (3) the holistic case management approach; and (4) the balance of flexibility and accountability in design and implementation.

Learn more by downloading the Executive Summary and Evaluation One-pager.

Strength in Numbers, a Message to the JEVS Human Services Team

A message to the JEVS Human Services team from Jay Spector, President and CEO.

JEVS Team:

As I’m writing this, I’m reflecting on another heartbreaking chapter in our national struggle with racism.  I’m thinking about injustice.  I’m worried about our city, our families and those we serve.  It has been a difficult few months, followed by an anguishing week, capped off by violence across our own community and country.  All of this as our frontline staff struggled over the past few days with the aftermath of the riots, curfews and road closures to make their way to work. It seems an understatement to say that we have had some tough days.

So what are we to do?  How can we find the energy to move forward? I think part of the answer lies in remembering that we aren’t alone.  Yesterday, I received a message from Nicki Woods, director of our CareerLink, that read in part, “this was a tough weekend for all of us that came with a lot of mixed emotions. A true flashback to the 1960s. We shall overcome. People walked hand in hand, side by side. Hoping to one day be free. They weren’t alone or afraid. The whole world around. Yes, we shall overcome one day.”

Nicki’s words reminded me of my early days of working for social justice, of being part of a movement bigger than just one person.  Her words also reminded me of our mission at JEVS.  Together, we make hope happen.  We aren’t in it alone. We walk side by side, helping those we serve find opportunity to live  fully realized and connected lives. And in this work lies the seeds of justice and a better world.

So while the world seems especially dark, let’s continue to walk side by side and support positive activities that seek to bring light and attention to the need for equality, justice and real change. There is strength in numbers – in our community and at JEVS Human Services.

Today is primary day, an opportunity to further change by voting for people who reflect your values and will work on your behalf to create change. Please exercise your right to vote.  Get to the polls if you haven’t mailed your ballot.

Stay safe!


Volunteer Opportunity: Send Some Encouragement

Do you, your children or grandchildren want to help brighten someone’s day while we’re all staying home to stay safe?  Do you have access paper, pens, crayons, markers?

We have an opportunity for you!

JEVS Human Services has community homes that support adults with disabilities.  Like all of us, they are getting restless at home — and they LOVE to get mail.

  • Send cards or notes to our residents with words of encouragement.
  • Send homemade art work.

Not an artist?  Ask your children or grandchildren to draw bright and cheery pictures.  The sun, grass, trees and flowers are great subjects — anything that makes you happy.

Mail your notes and homemade artwork to us and we’ll hand deliver to our community homes.

Mail to JEVS Human Services, 9350 Ashton Road, Suite 201                                                        Philadelphia, PA 19114   Attn: Eleni Krystopa

Re-entering The Fray: Skilled America Podcast

As cities and states seek to reduce their jail and prison populations to slow the spread of COVID-19, already stretched re-entry programs are working to address increased demand for their services.

For their Skilled America podcast, the National Skills Coalition spoke to our Jeff Abramowitz, Executive Director of Reentry Services at JEVS, and Darnell Manuel, a participant in our Looking Forward Philadelphia program, about the how they’re dealing with the increased demand and the challenges brought to bear by the pandemic.

Fifty-two-year-old Darnell Manuel has a bachelors degree in communications with a minor in business. After experiencing incarceration, he found JEVS’ re-entry program.

“When you have a criminal background, and you get in front of people…you feel like there’s a swinging pendulum ready to knock you down before you can say a word,” he said.  But JEVS Human Services has changed his outlook.

“They make it comfortable for you to come here and comfortable to say, you know what, I might have another chance at life,” he said. “I might have another chance to raise my child or grandchild, maybe one day have a 401K.”

> Listen to the podcast
> Read the companion piece on Medium
> Download a PDF of the article


Message from Jay Spector on the COVID-19 Pandemic


I want to provide you with an update on JEVS Human Services’ response to the coronavirus/COVID-19 pandemic and our commitment to those we serve. We know that these times will be especially hard on those we serve, many of whom are the most vulnerable in our community.

  • Our staff are finding new and creative ways to stay connected to clients and provide support including access to food and other necessities.
  • We are actively identifying client needs—we know there will be many—and will keep you posted on opportunities to help. 
  • Our ACT clinics are open for essential services and our community homes and home care operations are staffed.  In addition, our offices at 1845 Walnut and Ashton Road are open and staffed for critical functions.  At these locations we are fully focused on employee and client safety.  We are updating our operations as new guidance comes from public health experts and officials.
  • If you have questions about specific services, please contact the program directly during normal business hours or email us anytime at info@jevs.org.
  • We are working on plans to host virtual workshops where possible.  Please check our events calendar on our web site and social media feeds over the next week for new events and rescheduled dates as they are set.

We continue to monitor this situation closely and will provide ongoing updates as needed. We encourage you to stay up-to-date on COVID-19 through the Center for Disease Control website.

Stay safe and healthy!

Jay Spector
President & CEO

500 Backpacks, 500 Great Starts to the School Year

Above: These children of JEVS program participants were just some of the 500 who received back-to-school backpacks, thanks to JEVS donors and corporate sponsors.

Nothing says “have a great school year” like new school supplies.

Thanks to the extraordinary generosity of dozens of individual donors and corporate sponsors, earlier this month a team of 55 volunteers convened during two volunteer events to stuff 500 backpacks for children of families enrolled in our programs!

Big thanks to our sponsors Forman Mills, Walmart, TD Bank, Marshalls/TJX and Dooley Roofing and volunteer teams from Aloysius Butler & Clark, Aetna Better Health and State Farm.

Backpacks were distributed to families enrolled in Project WOW, The Choice is Yours, ACT clinics, Work Ready, E3 Power Center City, Center for New Americans and PA CareerLink.

Photo Gallery

View more photos from our backpack stuffing event on our Facebook page.




Seeing a Place I Know, with Fresh Eyes

Recently our HRIS Analyst Tali Elisha (fifth from left) traveled to Israel as part of our professional exchange with Israel Elwyn, funded by the Samuel P. Mandell Foundation.  Joining her on the trip was Souleymane Fall from our employer services team (third from left).   Tali reflects on a journey she’s made before, but this time with a new perspective.  You can read Souley’s reflections on the trip here

Where to begin…I have been to Israel many times over the years but this trip by far had the most impact on me. I was able to see a side of Israel that I never knew existed. I am so grateful to the staff at Israel Elwyn who showed us the amazing work they do supporting those living with disabilities in Israel.

In addition to meeting Elwyn staff, hearing about their experiences and what brought them to the helping field, Souleymane and I also got to meet some of the participants who are living their best lives with the help of Elwyn Israel. Seeing the pride on these participants’ faces when they talk about their day to day lives and their jobs, that Elwyn has assisted them in finding, gives new meaning to their lives. I am so grateful that I was given the opportunity to learn from these inspiring individuals.

One of the more impactful moments of the trip was attending the final ceremony for those who were finishing their National Service in a program call Mosaic. These men and women were excused from the mandatory military service that all Israeli citizens between the ages of 18 to 21 are required to fulfill. Instead of choosing to do nothing, these participants chose to volunteer in other capacities, so that they too, feel they are also giving back to the country that has provided so much for them.

6,000 Miles Apart But Mission In Common

Souley, pictured far right, with JEVS colleague Tali Elisha (next to Souley) visit with new friends from Israel Elwyn. 

Earlier this month, I was fortunate to travel to Israel with my co-worker Tali Elisha from our human resources team, as part of JEVS’ annual professional exchange program with Israel Elwyn.  The exchange is funded by the Samuel P. Mandell Foundation to promote learning and development between our two organizations.  While in Israel, we had the pleasure to meet with Israeli government officials, tour schools and Elwyn’s vocational, employment and support programs for persons with disabilities.

Established in 1984, Israel Elwyn’s vision is to achieve a society in which people with disabilities will be citizens with equal rights; a society in which we all aspire to determine our own future and way of life. Israel Elwyn develops and operates a wide range of supports and tools for individuals with disabilities, while constantly striving to provide excellent service and to create a just society. Israel Elwyn provides services to children, teenagers and adults with disabilities throughout Israel.

The visits we made included:

  • Supported Living Services, including competitive employment programs, early intervention services, special education creative educational and enrichment activities.
  • Employment Centers and Social Employment Enterprises, including a direct mail facility, a digital archiving enterprise, and an industrial food service.
  • The Mosaic Program, which enables young adults with disabilities ages 18-24 who are exempt from military service, to join the National Service program and contribute to Israeli society as do their peers.

This was without a doubt the best trip of my life. I cannot thank the Israel Elwyn staff enough for their hospitality and willingness to share their best practices. It was an amazing and informative trip.  As a Muslim, I was raised to treat people with dignity and respect.  Unfortunately, we are living in challenging times when religion can cloud our way of seeing and interacting with people.  To travel in Israel and to be welcomed the way I was filled my heart with hope that we can live and work together in ways that make life better for all people, regardless of faith, race, nationality or disability. A visit to Israel is not a vacation.  It is an emotional and educational experience that I will never forget.


Contributed by Souleymane Fall, JEVS’ Director of Employment Services 


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