THE Philadelphia Re-entry Employment Program, a proposed ordinance crafted by former City Councilman Michael Nutter and introduced last week by Councilman W. Wilson Goode Jr, goes to the heart of the ex-offender problem - jobs.

Not content to rely on businesses' sense of social responsibility, PREP entices them to hire ex-offenders by offering a $10,000 per job tax credit against the much-loathed city business privilege tax for three years. The businesses would give $2,000 for the employee's education. The ex-offender will return at least 5 percent of wages to the city.

It's an aggressive step. For years, officials in probation and parole, and experts who monitor the system, have said that ex-offenders face numerous hurdles as they try to re-enter society. Often with little education, drug problems, or no job prospects, they revert to old criminal ways, taxing an already overwhelmed criminal justice system.

Business leaders have questions, such as whether tax credits are transferable, or how does PREP benefit non-profits.

But in the long run, PREP could turn ex-offenders into positive contributors to society, and keep them - and us - from trouble. *