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I recently read an article in Yes Magazine’s Beyond Prisons” issue entitled, Recipes for Recovery,” highlighting San Francisco’s own Delancey Street Foundation. Celebrating its 40th anniversary this year, Delancey Street is a program unlike any other– a reentry center for ex-prisoners and addicts, where the residents run the day-to-day, from housing, therapy sessions, businesses, such as their moving company and restaurant. 

I first learned about Delancey Street four years ago, when I was working with a group of formerly incarcerated individuals in Worcester, Massachusetts who decided it was time to take the reins into their own hands and start a worker-owned business, rather than continue to be barred from businesses that refused to hire based on their pasts. They looked to Delancey Street as a model and a blueprint of where they would like to be in the future. 

This article struck me for many reasons. Knowing first hand just how difficult it is to get a program like this off the ground, I was extremely impressed with their success, graduating over 18,000 people from their program over the years. Secondly, it draws the connection to my work at CJCJ in the Sentencing Service Program. The article tells the story of Delancey Street resident Margie Lewis, a woman who had been plagued by some form of incarceration her entire life. Her first exposure to the system was as a teenager in the California Youth Authority (CYA), now the Division of Juvenile Facilities (DJF). This is exactly why it is so crucial to reduce our nation’s, and particularly our state’s reliance on incarceration, for our youngest population. CJCJ advocates for alternatives to DJF in recognition that individuals are best served when their placement matches their treatment needs and when they are housed in a rehabilitative rather than punitive environment that does not foster deeper criminogenic behavior. 

Without programs like these, the challenges of reentry are often not addressed. Delancey Street’s approach to treatment confirms that compassion and respect can be more fiscally sound than the dehumanization and punishment that happens in the prison system.” We need to focus on providing youth involved with the juvenile justice system the appropriate placements and services at an early age, to prevent it from defining their life, as it did for Margie Lewis before she found Delancey Street. 

~Emily LuhrsSentencing Service Program Case Specialist