Women leaving the criminal justice system face nearly insurmountable hurdles. After cycling in and out of prison for two decades, Susan Burton founded A New Way of Life Reentry Project for incarcerated women in California, as a way to address some of these hurdles.
Since 1998, the Ford grantee has provided housing to more than 1,100 formerly incarcerated women, reunited 300+ mothers with their children, and provided pro bono legal services to 3,000+ people with conviction histories. Burton believes the economy is burdened by the amount of money spent on corrections -- money that could be redirected to opening up opportunities for women leaving the criminal justice system, which could help create prison reform.
“It’s striking to me how we can spend $75,000 a year to lock a woman like me up, and then we send her back to the community with $200, no ID, no Social Security card, nowhere to live, and expect her to make it,” she says. “It's impossible.”
A New Way of Life Reentry Project helps formerly incarcerated women in California find housing and jobs, opening up opportunities for women returning from prison, and helping to lower recidivism rates.
“We created a community of women helping, supporting, and recovering from substance misuse, from the effects of incarceration, from early childhood trauma. And in this community we all got better. We all thrived. And I thought, “My, this is magic, what’s happening here.” But it isn’t magic. That’s what we should do all over this country,” she says.
Burton’s story is part of the #FutureIsHers multimedia series of interviews, essays, and more, celebrating the innovators, risk-takers, and change-makers the Ford Foundation has proudly supported and the impact they’ve had on the lives of women and girls everywhere. Despite the many challenges women and girls face, around the world they’re rising up. Determined and persistent, they’re leading the way in showing us what gender justice looks like, disrupting inequality and creating a world where social change is possible: The future is hers.