- Associated Press - Monday, December 7, 2015

PHILADELPHIA (AP) - Philadelphia’s district attorney on Monday announced a new program that would allow certain non-violent felony defendants to become students instead of inmates.

District Attorney Seth Williams launched Future Forward, a yearlong program aimed at avoiding incarceration and a criminal record while earning up to 24 college credits. Williams’ office is partnering with the Community College of Philadelphia and ShopRite supermarkets. Enrollees will complete life skills classes and have their progress monitored in regular status hearings.

Candidates must meet several criteria, including having a high school diploma or GED, no more than one prior non-violent misdemeanor and no outstanding warrants. They also must be at least 24 years old and eligible for federal financial aid, as the students’ costs will be covered by Pell Grants.

Spokesman Cameron Kline said the program will begin during the next semester, starting in January, and Williams’ office is identifying up to 15 people to participate in the pilot.

The city’s jail system is one of the country’s biggest, and much of its overcrowding is attributed to people awaiting trial - many for non-violent offenses. City leaders are seeking solutions to reduce the jail population and are considering bail reform initiatives such as diversion programs as a main approach.

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