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Susan Burton, Nationally Acclaimed Advocate for Returning Citizens, to Visit NWA

Susan Burton, nationally acclaimed founder of A New Way of Life Reentry Project, located in Los Angeles, will speak from 6-7:15 p.m. on Monday, April 17, at the Event Center of the Fayetteville Public Library.

For over two decades, Burton has dedicated her life to assisting and advocating for returning citizens in California and across the country.

Burton started A New Way of Life in 1998 after ending her own cycle of incarceration, stemming from a history of poverty and abuse, a substance use disorder and the tragic loss of her young son.

The story of Burton’s breaking free from recidivism, not long after she was finally able to receive treatment at a community-based rehabilitation center, is told in the first part of Becoming Ms. Burton: From Prison to Recovery to Leading the Fight for Incarcerated Women, co-written by Burton and Cari Lynn and published in 2017.

The second part of Burton’s book narrates her incredible determination first to establish and then to expand her non-profit organization despite a series of significant obstacles.

A New Way of Life continues to serve many returning women, as well as their families, and has grown from one reentry residence to 12 in Los Angeles County.

Additional resources that A New Way of Life provides include pro bono legal services, promotion of community leadership by those who have been directly impacted by the justice system and family reunification support.

Drawing from the success of A New Way of Life’s program structure, the SAFE (Sisterhood Alliance for Freedom and Equality) Housing Network program, started in 2018, now has 32 members in 18 states. It is a model that “was designed for women in reentry by women who have been through reentry themselves.”

From 1980 through 2020, the total population of incarcerated women in the U.S. grew over 475%. Though a recent decrease in that number occurred due to COVID-19, the rate of women’s incarceration in the U.S. is still the highest in the world. As of 2018, over 30% of the world’s incarcerated women were in this country, though only 4% of the world’s female population resides in the U.S.

Currently, there is a little over 170,000 women and girls locked up in the U.S., and the total number of those released each year is much higher. In 2019, nearly 2.5 million women and girls were released from adult correctional facilities in the U.S.

Both men and women who return to society with a felony on their record face stigmatization and a range of other barriers–to employment, education, housing, various forms of medical treatment, family reunification, etc.–making successful reentry extremely difficult for many.

Burton’s hard work at helping women who are coming out of prison has attracted attention from across the country and earned her numerous accolades. She was named one of 18 new civil rights leaders in the nation by The Los Angeles Times, and she has been selected as both a CNN Top 10 Hero and a Soros Justice Fellow.

Further, in addition to her book’s receiving the 2018 NAACP Image Award, Burton herself has received the Irvine Foundation Leadership Award, the Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award (by the Center for Public Leadership at Harvard Kennedy School), the Encore Purpose Prize and an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from California State University, Northridge.

Please note that this event will be providing both ASL interpretation and CART captioning services, which can be accessed here. Stream text can also be accessed here.

This event is supported in part by a grant from the Arkansas Humanities Council and the National Endowment for the Humanities. Additional co-sponsors include the Fayetteville Public Library, the Prison Story Project and the following programs and departments affiliated with the U of A:

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