SoCal program offers housing, resources for formerly incarcerated women as solution for recidivism

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Saturday, October 14, 2023
Program offers safe housing, resources for formerly incarcerated women
A New Way of Life has 12 homes across Los Angeles County, providing safe housing for formerly incarcerated women to restart their lives.

Resources are available for people leaving prison to rejoin their community. But how do they find that help and will they trust the people who are offering it?

"I know what it feels like to walk out a prison door and not have nowhere to go," says Susan Burton, the founder of A New Way of Life.

Burton founded A New Way of Life in 1998 to create opportunity and healing for formerly incarcerated people. People like Melanie Robledo, who was once homeless and in and out of jail. She is now a housing program manager at the Center for Employment Opportunities.

"One time I got incarcerated every day in a single week, and the difference now was that I knew about the program because it was available for me while I was incarcerated," Robledo explained.

A New Way of Life has 12 homes across LA County providing safe housing for formerly incarcerated women to restart their lives. But there are also other nonprofits across the county who provide legal help, advocacy and family reunification. Before 2018, there wasn't a way for them to work together until the county created the Reentry Intensive Case Management Services (RICMS) program.

"People aren't aware of what's available and to have that level of coordination, while seemingly commonsensical, you would think wouldn't make a huge impact, actually quite an impact on someone's life," says Vanessa Martin, the director of Reentry for L.A. County's Justice Care and Opportunities Department.

There are 24 community based organizations participating in the county's RICMS program hoping to coordinate the services, but also connect participants with community health workers like Robledo who have similar life experiences.

"If you want to see yourself succeed and you're willing to put in the work, and you lost hope and you're looking for a glimmer of hope, you can look at people like me and just say, 'Hey you know what? If she can do it, why can't I?' Because you can," Robledo said.

The program's success isn't just anecdotal. Analysis of 53 studies on reentry programs found that on average, reentry programs reduce recidivism by 6%, compared with a 17% difference in the RICMS program.

"We haven't seen effects like this on recidivism, reducing recidivism, in as long as I have been doing this work, which is now 25 years," Martin said.

"It's the things that people need, that we need for our communities to be safe and for our community members to prosper. To go beyond surviving to thriving," Burton said.

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