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Legislature restores funds to McGrath House

South End facility helps formerly incarcerated women re-integrate

Trea Lavery
Legislature restores funds to McGrath House
Local and state officials gather to cut the ribbon on the newly re-opened facility. PHOTO: TREA LAVERY

Just over one year after closing its doors due to budget cuts, McGrath House, Massachusetts’ only halfway house exclusively for women exiting state and county incarceration, opened again last week with a ribbon-cutting ceremony attended by members of the community and many of the elected officials who helped bring it back.

“The biggest piece of criminal justice reform is reentry,” said Massachusetts Trial Court Chief Justice Paula Carey. “We can do all the work we want, but if we don’t have a reentry program to help folks get their lives back in order, then it’s all for naught.”

McGrath House, which is operated by Community Resources for Justice, provides 33 beds to women leaving prison, as well as transitional housing, case management, connections to community resources and other resources to reduce recidivism. It closed in the spring of 2018 due to declining referrals and resources from the state.

However, later in the year, Massachusetts legislators designated a new $5 million budget item for reentry support services, with $1 million reserved for women and older inmates. These funds allowed for the reopening of McGrath.

“It’s so hard to transition from incarceration to the community, and it’s even harder for women,” said state Sen. Cynthia Creem. “It wasn’t long ago that women were shackled in prison when they gave birth. … At the national level, over half of incarcerated women are parents of children under 18. In addition, an overwhelming 79 percent of incarcerated women are survivors of physical violence. Women have unique issues and we have overlooked them in many ways.”

According to CRJ, two-thirds of people leaving jails and more than half of people leaving prison in Massachusetts in 2011 were re-arraigned within three years of their release. Reentry programs can reduce recidivism by up to 25 percent for high-risk individuals.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo said that the reason for the high rate of recidivism is that the criminal justice system does not do enough to prepare people to return the community once they leave incarceration.

“We weren’t showing them the support that they needed if they were going to succeed outside in society,” DeLeo said. “Maybe it’s those simple things in life that we take for granted that we weren’t giving to these folks at all. We just throw them out and say, ‘Okay, probably see you in another couple of months,’ without the tools. That’s what this place represents, and hopefully what the women that stay here will see: that there are people who care for them.”

Rosa, a graduate of McGrath’s program who was identified only by her first name, told the attendees how participating in the program helped her reconnect with her family, integrate back into the community and enroll in school.

“It seems like we are left behind, and no one gives us a voice. I came to McGrath and I had nothing,” Rosa said. “They gave me the foundation to succeed in my future. When you engage in a positive path, that is a key element of what you need to succeed in life.”

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