Through our Lunch and Learn Professional Development Series, Good Counsel Services brings in experts, professionals, and innovators from diverse fields and backgrounds to present to and be of resource for our community of interns, social entrepreneurs, and emerging non-profit organizations. Our most recent guest speaker was Serena Liguori, the Executive Director of New Hour for Women and Children—Long Island, a non-profit dedicated to supporting women, children, and families impacted by incarceration. New Hour seeks to “build community to promote successful reentry and lasting reintegration, and to reform unjust criminal justice system policies. [They] empower directly impacted people to use their experiences to effect change in the [prison] system.”
When Serena Liguori was 19 years old, she became incarcerated. During her time in prison, she quickly realized that access to health care and other services was inequitable and lacking compared to care one can get elsewhere. As the number of women behind bars rises, there is an ever-increasing need for services and programming for those impacted by incarceration. Liguori claims the prisons do a minimum for women’s health care, mental health, and support services. Liguori states the majority of the women are of color. 56% have a mental health diagnosis, many of the diagnoses being serious. 9 in 10 are survivors of abuse; 80% are survivors of substance abuse. 3 in 4 of them are mothers. The average woman has a fourth-grade education level. Since there are no other agencies dedicated to empowering women and children impacted by incarceration on Long Island, New Hour stepped in. As part of their vision, New Hour aims “to provide successful support for children and mothers during and after incarceration.” They provide programming for mothers during and after incarceration “to support healthy relationships and end the trauma that children of incarcerated mothers face.”
Challenges Within the Community
Educating the community about who the women are behind bars. Community members have misconceptions about who a woman is that becomes or has become incarcerated. Liguori explains that we tend to judge more women harshly than men since women traditionally care for children and are supposed to be well behaved, etc. Due to increased awareness of policing and the knowledge that police have a lot of discretion in whom they arrest (generally, more people of color than white people), the dialogue around incarceration has opened up considerably.
Stable housing. Housing on Long Island is expensive and hard to find. As a result, many women who have recently been released from prison may be likely to go back to an abuser or stay in a place where criminal activity occurs. New Hour is currently accepting donations to purchase a house to help women transition home.
Liguori notes that it is crucial for women to find a sense of self and space and feel accepted. Therefore, New Hour strives to ensure that people have a space to come to receive services during and after incarceration—their programming offers “a safe place to go to find yourself and be who you are and not be judged and accomplish your goals and dreams in life.” In addition to providing a sense of community, New Hour’s programming decreases the chances of recidivism, meaning they are less likely to commit another crime. Women are 2% likely to recidivate after coming through New Hour’s programming as opposed to 65% who would if they received no services, states Liguori. She affirms: “Jails serve as a cyclical in and out welcome center for people who don’t receive services.”
One of New Hour’s feature programs is their Empowering Methods for Effective Reentry, Growth, and Engagement (EMERGE) program. This program is a 15-week leadership and advocacy training program designed to help women understand their worth and their role in giving back to change the justice system. Among many skills they develop as part of the EMERGE program, participants learn about New York state laws and how they can help change them and how they can advocate with their lawmakers. Click here for a list of more of New Hour’s programs. Watch this video to see the impact of New Hour’s work.
The incarceration rate is increasing, which further emphasizes the need for programming, support, and a sense of community for those impacted by the carceral system, all of which New Hour works to do. People also need a plan for reacclimating into society after they have been released. When women are provided with the skillset to help adjust to life outside bars, they are often successful. As previously noted, they are less likely to recidivate. Liguori says: the criminal justice system creates trauma and harm that causes a sense of indignity and humanity and is perpetuated by a culture of violence and harm. It “doesn’t ultimately promote wellness…it eats people up and devours their sense of identity.” This only emphasizes the necessity of stability for these women as they have experienced something other community members haven’t. Liguori describes post-incarceration as “almost like coming back from war—you’ve been through something no one else has, and people in the general community don’t know what you’re going through.” According to Liguori,
“The issue of incarceration is really wide-reaching. It’s not just about people who have committed a crime. It really is about substance abuse, alcohol and drug abuse, domestic violence, mental health…all of these different areas of our community that we talk about amongst ourselves…it all relates back to the same sort of issue, so as a community, we have to think about these issues not separately and not independent of each other but really as comingled and certainly part of larger systemic issues that we as a community face and can face together.”
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Become involved with #Project Dignity—New Hour provides women with a bag to their facility filled with toiletries, clothing, and other goods to allow dignity to be restored to women who are returning to the community after incarceration. You can donate supplies or directly order supplies on Amazon and have them delivered to New Hour.