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Carlos Carter, tapped to take the helm of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, starts next month

Katie Blackley
90.5 WESA

On today’s episode of The Confluence: Carlos Carter, the incoming president and CEO of the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh, explains what he sees as his priorities in the role, which he’s stepping into after the retirement of longtime leader Esther Bush; and two members of a working group to support women after incarceration tell us what challenges women face upon re-entering society, and the importance of gender-specific programming.

The Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh 
(0:00 - 8:00)

For the first time in 27 years, the Urban League of Greater Pittsburgh will have a new leader. Esther Bush, a fixture in the Pittsburgh community, is retiring as president and CEO of the organization this fall.

The board found her successor in another Pittsburgh fixture. Carlos Carter will take over as president and CEO on November 10.

“I don’t take it lightly, following in the footsteps and standing on the shoulders of a community icon and champion like Esther,” says Carter. “I have a lot to learn and so I wanted to approach this position with humility. You know, I want to look, listen and learn.”

Carter is wrapping up his role as executive director of the Homeless Children’s Education Fund. He previously served as a consultant for Holy Family Institute, and has held various positions in the banking industry.

“I think there is this division or divide between the nonprofit world and the for-profit world, but we need everyone, right?” says Carter. He says his work in both sectors has given him a wide perspective.

“I feel like my job is to sound the alarm that we need to bring Black people to the table,” he says. “We don’t need Black people just in [diversity and inclusion] positions. That’s great, and it’s important, but we need to be in other parts of the C-suite as well, we’re not one-trick ponies.”

A working group through ACLU Pennsylvania is trying to support women re-entering society after incarceration
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The population of women incarcerated in state correctional institutions grew by five percent from 2010 and 2019, according to the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections, while the men’s population decreased by 11% during that same period.

The statistic sparked a discussion between Pennsylvania’s first lady, Frances Wolf,advocates and formerly incarcerated women about reentry programs and services for women.

The American Civil Liberties Union Pennsylvania is part of a working group dedicated to these issues, calling on those with experience transitioning from incarceration and criminal justice advocates to find solutions.

“It's really scary because when you're coming from a state facility, you've done more than a year. So unless you're coming out to employment, clothing, cosmetics, a vehicle, there's a lack of resources,” says Valerie Todd, an advocate supporting women in reentry.

Todd was incarcerated in 2010 and completed her parole in 2017. She says when she was released, she had difficulty securing housing and seeing her children, issues that she says men aren’t facing as severely.

Jill McCorkel, a professor of criminology and sociology at Villanova University, as well as the founding director of the Philadelphia Justice Project for Women and Girls, is also part of the working group. She says the support women receive leaving a state correctional facility depends on their jurisdiction.

“There are really specific ways in which women are disadvantaged as they come out relative to men. The other issue is a real lack of understanding gender and women's specific needs, particularly around caregiving and kids,” says McCorkel.

Todd says when those formerly incarcerated are released, they’re sent to Community Corrections Centers (CCC) if they don’t have readily available housing. She was sent to one following her release.

“I had seven roommates, and six of them were using drugs,” Todd says. “It was about me keeping my mind set on staying focused. I didn’t have clothes or anything like that, so I had to depend on donations. I did get put on a housing list, I never ever got housing, even though I had four children. It took me years to be reconciled to my children.”

Both agree the toll, mental and physical, of readjusting to your community following incarceration is immense.

McCorkel says the increase in female incarceration is an artifact of crime policy, such as mandatory minimum sentencing policies.

“There’s been a lack of attention to how this is playing out in the women's institutions, and that lack of attention is at the level of policy but it’s also from progressive reform efforts. Most of those efforts are directed at men, and so women have really been left behind,” she says.

The Confluence, where the news comes together, is 90.5 WESA’s daily news program. Tune in Monday to Thursday at 9 a.m. and 7:30 p.m. to hear newsmakers and innovators take an in-depth look at stories important to the Pittsburgh region. Find more episodes of The Confluence here or wherever you get your podcasts. 

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