HARRISBURG – When the prison door slams shut on a parent, a child left behind is 70 percent more likely to also end up behind bars, according to Sen. Vincent Hughes, D-Philadelphia, who created the First Chance Fund to break that cycle.
“We want to make sure those children are not left out,” Hughes said. “They need to have programming. They need to have support.”
The First Chance Fund will provide scholarships and other programs for students across the state, “which have statistically higher high school dropout rates, or incarceration rates, or high crime rates.”
That’s code for children of the incarcerated in Philadelphia and Pittsburgh, says Rep. Sheryl Delozier, R-Cumberland.
“I think that is not the best use of those dollars,” Delozier said. “We need to be taking a look at where the victim’s voice is.”
The First Chance Fund does have bipartisan support including Sen. Rich Alloway, R-Franklin, but it was tucked into the Fiscal Code and passed with the budget, which is also frustrating to Delozier.
“It’s not questioned. It’s not debated,” she said.
But it is now law.
Hughes is a chairman of the Appropriations Committee and has the ability to squeeze items into fiscal codes. He doesn’t deny that. And doesn’t apologize for trying to help high-risk children in vulnerable situations.
“We do a lot of things at the last minute here in this building that help very wealthy individuals and wealthy corporations,” Hughes said. “If I can use whatever influence that I have to help children that are not wearing suits and ties, walking around the Capitol, that are not lobbyists, if I can help do something to help those kids, I’m damn sure gonna do it.”
Hughes says the idea came from Corrections Secretary John Wetzel and the specific rules for eligibility will be determined and written by the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency. He says though the focus is on the children of the incarcerated, the program will be broadened to possibly help the children of victims who meet the other high-risk criteria.
He also insists it will apply to rural as well as inner-city children.
The funding for the First Chance Fund will come from vendors who do business with the Department of Corrections. Any business that gets a contract of more than $5 million from the DOC will pay 1 percent of it into the fund.