Woman who helped Philly empty House of Correction says goodbye to city government

Pat Loeb
November 09, 2019 - 4:00 am
Julie Wertheimer.

Pat Loeb/KYW Newsradio

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) — The woman in charge of Philadelphia's criminal justice reform effort left city government Friday after 12 years, serving under two administrations. She leaves behind a landmark achievement.

Julie Wertheimer has spent her entire career in city government and was first hired in the budget office at the beginning of the Nutter administration when the Great Recession hit. The young newcomer was part of the team that had to salvage the city budget to cushion the impact.

"Which was an incredible learning curve and an incredible opportunity," she said. 

That mindset — that a hard problem is an "opportunity" — can sum up why so many of Wertheimer's colleagues, including her boss, managing director Brian Abernathy, have relied on her for tough jobs.

"The ability to keep our partners at the table, the ability to facilitate difficult conversations," Abernathy said.

The toughest job she's had is bringing down the city's prison population. And, in the spirit of a challenge being an opportunity, it led to her proudest achievement: helping to close the House of Correction.

"It was a symbol of a lot of injustice that many Philadelphians suffered and to have it be closed and to know that no one has to work there or be housed there is an important step forward for Philadelphia to be a just city," she said.

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Wertheimer is headed to the Pew Trusts' Public Safety Performance Project to help cities across the country see that kind of progress. 

Her old boss, Judge Benjamin Lerner, said it reminds him of how he and Wertheimer used to fantasize about winning the lottery so they could start a criminal justice foundation. 

"I am so happy that, for Julie at least, the fantasy has come true," Lerner said.

"Pew is one of the few places where you would have even more resources than if you won the Powerball," Lerner added. 

Wertheimer said it's a good opportunity.