According to the U.S. Bureau of Justice, nationally, more than 112,000 women were incarcerated in 2014 compared to approximately 13,000 in 1980. Even with the passage of Proposition 47, which reduces specified felonies to misdemeanors, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation projects that in 2017, the number of women incarcerated within the state will increase. But the problem involves more than increasing numbers. The incarceration of women creates trauma and disruption at individual and family levels as well as within the broader community that potentially contributes to health disparities, particularly in low‐income, marginalized communities of color. And these problems do not end after incarceration. Re-entry is typically thought of as a time of freedom; in reality it is fraught with as much uncertainty, instability and fear as incarceration itself.
Developing an effective and supportive reentry program that fosters success instead of adding trauma requires first-hand knowledge of the lived experience of incarceration. Susan Burton knows this reality first‐hand. Her own incarceration and recovery has guided the development of an organization whose mission statement is implicit in its name: A New Way of Life (ANWOL). Through housing, work placement, mental health and substance use treatment, as well as organizing and advocacy skill‐building that fosters both individual empowerment and systems change, ANWOL provides women with a truly comprehensive range of supportive services to nurture and develop personal growth through every aspect of the painful re‐entry process.
Susan Burton (Founder and Executive Director), Tiffany Johnson (Associate Director) and the women at ANWOL graciously allowed Leap & Associates (L&A) to enter their world and their lived experience. With the support of The California Endowment (TCE), L&A conducted a case study designed to describe and illuminate the ways ANWOL supports the growth of women experiencing re-entry as it fights to reshape societal narratives and policies that perpetuate the continued incarceration among women and communities of color. Through in-depth interviews with current ANWOL residents, this case study presents six themes that emerged typifying the women’s experiences prior to entering ANWOL and providing context for their pathway to and recovery from incarceration. These themes include parentification, exposure to substance use within nuclear and extended family, trauma (child sexual abuse, inter-personal violence, childhood exposure to domestic violence), poverty, homelessness and gang-involvement. An additional five themes were identified that exemplified the principles and programmatic components at ANWOL that resonated most strongly with women, contributing to its success as a stand-alone re-entry program. These themes include reaching out for acceptance into the program, the autonomy and freedom afforded participants throughout the program, housing, inspirational leadership and mentorship, and community-based treatment and opportunities to participate in community events.
Since its establishment in 1998 as a single room in Susan Burton’s home to the current multi-site, far-reaching program that exists today, ANWOL has been a source of hope, help and growth for hundreds of women enduring re‐entry. ANWOL is an innovative, holistic program that embodies and exemplifies evidence‐informed practices, and should be scaled up at a national level. Throughout the process of developing this case study, we saw first-hand how deeply committed ANWOL staff are to transforming the re-entry process for women, families and communities. More importantly, we are indebted to the women at ANWOL and commend their strength and courage as they heal both themselves and the communities in which they live.
 Bureau of Justice Statistics. (2015). Prisoners in 2014 (No. NCJ-248955). U.S. Department of Justice.
 Bureau of Justice Statistics. (1988). Correctional Populations in the United States 1985 (No. NCJ-I03957). U.S. Department of Justice.
 California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. (2015). Spring 2015 Population Projections. Sacramento, CA: California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation.
Click here to download the case study.
(pictured above: Susan Burton, Founder, A New Way of Life)