A New Way of Life: VIsions of Abolition

This woman rocks. Check out Susan Burton and A New Way of Life on the new Critical Resistance video: Visions of Abolition. Here’s a preview:

————via the Real Cost of Prisons’ listserve——————–

Women’s prisons closures good fiscal, social policy
Timothy P. Silard, Jean Ross
Tuesday, September 13, 2011
San Fransisco Chronicle

After the death of her 5-year-old son, Susan Burton turned to drugs and ended up in California’s criminal justice system.

Over the course of two decades, Burton’s addiction caused her to cycle through California’s prison system six times for drug offenses. She finally got help and turned her life around at a local rehabilitation center, not in prison. Today, Burton helps other formerly incarcerated women to permanently exit the system through A New Way of Life, a nonprofit in South Central Los Angles that she founded.

Burton and the women she works with are among the key groups that could be helped by the impending “realignment” of the corrections system, a groundbreaking effort to give counties – rather than the state – responsibility for managing low-level, nonviolent offenders. If implemented effectively, restructuring could result in one significant yet often overlooked solution to California’s economic woes: closing one or more of the prisons used to house women.

California warehouses one of the largest populations of female prisoners in the world and also has the dubious distinction of being home to two of the world’s largest women’s prisons. Both in Chowchilla, these prisons cost our cash-strapped state $278 million a year. This reform presents an unprecedented opportunity to rapidly reduce the number of women sent to state prison and to shutter one or both of the women’s institutions in Chowchilla.

More than half of the state’s 9,500 female prisoners are classified as low risk, locked up for nonviolent and non-serious offenses. Under AB109, signed into law this year to implement the governor’s plan for restructuring corrections as part of the budget agreement, these women would not be sentenced to state prison, but would instead be placed in county jail, drug-treatment programs, community service or other alternatives to state custody.

California desperately needs the savings that would be realized by closing down these facilities. For instance, saving a significant portion of that $278 million could offset a sizable share of the $650 million in budget cuts made to the California State University system in the recently passed state budget.

Reducing the state’s population of female prisoners and closing down the facilities used to house them is not only fiscally prudent, it is also good public policy. These are women who often do not belong in state prison in the first place. Research shows that they are more likely to be victims of violent crimes than perpetrators, and 4 out of every 10 women behind bars have histories of being physically or sexually abused. Most of the women in California state prison are mothers, and many are single parents. Without the support these women need to successfully re-enter their communities and get off drugs, nearly 60 percent of them end up back in prison within three years. It’s a frustrating revolving door that comes at an enormous cost to our budgets and to the lives of tens of thousands of women and children. The restructuring of corrections lays the groundwork for counties to pursue treatment, education, home detention and other alternatives to incarceration.

Now is the time for California to make a novel and bold move. A recent survey shows that a large majority of Californians are tired of bearing the burden of the “lock ’em up” approach to public safety that has driven criminal justice policy in California for years. And, after a nearly 40-year prison boom, 13 states – including Texas – have closed or are planning to shutter such facilities.

Let’s commit now to full and effective implementation of realigning public-safety programs by providing treatment-based solutions for female offenders. Let’s start planning to close state prisons that are no longer needed.

Timothy P. Silard is a former prosecutor and president of the Rosenberg Foundation, a statewide grant-making foundation based in San Francisco. Jean Ross is executive director of the Sacramento-based California Budget Project.

This article appeared on page A – 10 of the San Francisco Chronicle

Group of formerly incarcerated people visit area, discuss prison reform

By Scott Johnson • March 3, 2011
Montgomery Advertiser:

They have turned around their own lives, and now they want to turn around the direction of the U.S. prison system.

That is part of the message being presented by a group of formerly incarcerated people from across the country that employs the slogan “serving our country after serving our time.”

Dubbed the Formerly Incarcerated & Convicted People Movement, the group met Monday through Wednesday in Montgomery and Selma.

It is the first time the group has gathered in one location, and the choice of Montgomery and Selma was no accident.

“It is like our path was cut in the civil rights movement, and we are just bringing it back where it started,” said Dorsey Nunn, a rights advocate and former inmate from San Francisco who helped organize the meeting.

The group met Monday in Montgomery to discuss strategy.

Members marched across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma on Tuesday and met with state leaders at the State House on Wednesday.

The Rev. Kenneth Glasgow of Dothan helped organize the gathering. Glasgow is the founder of The Ordinary People Society, an out reach group for inmates and former inmates.

Glasgow said group members Wednesday spoke with legislators, Chief Justice Sue Bell Cobb and Gov. Robert Bentley.

Glasgow said the formerly incarcerated bring a valuable voice to discussions about prison reform.

“When they use us (as a re source), they are talking to experts by experience — those who have been there, done that,” Glasgow said.

Group members emphasize their focus on public service, and they visited an alternative school in Selma on Tuesday as part of a gang- prevention effort.

Glasgow said the group also plans to work with victim rights groups to help make amends for crimes.

They also, however, hope to change some public policy and reform the way the nation’s prison systems operate.

To stress the importance of their cause, members point to issues such as the cost of prison overcrowding and how barriers to re-entering society might make felons more likely to return to crime.

Susan Burton created A New Way of Life, a Los Angeles re-entry program, in 1998. She said her drug and alcohol addictions led to six trips to prison, with her last release in 1996.

Burton said the time has come for like-minded people to unite on the issue of prison reform.

“We have no other way to go but to get together and figure it out,” said Burton, who was named a CNN “Top 10 Hero” for 2010.

Glasgow said he and Nunn have worked for a long time to organize such a gathering.

“It has been a vision for years,” said Glasgow, founder of The Ordinary People Society.

Malik Aziz, founder of the National Exhoodus Council, said the group wants to be an active partner with law enforcement without alienating those who still are incarcerated.

“We want to be a community partner — a legitimate, recognized partner (with law enforcement). We won’t be an informer. That is not what our relation with the police is,” said Aziz, a former gang leader from Philadelphia.

Many of the group members talked about the large numbers of prisoners being released back into society.

More than 700,000 prisoners have been released from state and federal custody each year from 2005 to 2009, the most recent year for which the U.S. Department of Justice has gathered statistics.

Many of those people will return to poor economic conditions on top of the barriers to their re-integration into society, said Eddie Ellis of New York.

“There’s been no real discussion of what to do with those people,” said Ellis, co-founder of the Center for Nu Leadership on Urban Solutions at the City University of New York’s Medgar Evers College.

Gabriel Sayegh, New York director of the Drug Policy Alliance, said prison reform is a non-partisan issue.

Sayegh pointed out that critics on both sides of the political aisle have called for prison reform, including Newt Gingrich and the conservative group Right on Crime.

“There is widespread recognition that what we’ve got has failed,” said Sayegh, who was part of a group of sup porters who joined the gathering but are not formerly incarcerated.

The Drug Policy Alliance, a nonprofit organization with a stated goal of ending the War on Drugs, helped fund the gathering.

Nunn said the three-day gathering was a success be cause it was the first time it has happened.

He said the next one will be in Los Angeles and will be even bigger as group members recruit other activists.

“It will be double or triple the size of the people we had here,” Nunn said.

Vote for Susan Burton on CNN: A New Way of Life

Vote for Susan Burton to make her CNN nr 1 Hero of 2010.
Vote today! Susan Burton.

Susan Burton has helped more than 400 female ex-convicts get back on their feet.

A new door is what Burton’s program — A New Way of Life Reentry Project — gives to just-released female offenders. By providing a sober place to live and other support services, she’s helped more than 400 women get back on their feet.

She meets new arrivals at bus stations or prison gates, saying “welcome home.”

Please visit the website of Susan’s project A New Way of Life.