Sheriff of the Year Award Recipient Leroy Baca Provided Leadership in Program for Incarcerated Mothers

The Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law extends warm congratulations to LA County Sheriff Leroy Baca for receiving the National Sheriffs’ Association’s highest honor, 2013 Sheriff of the Year. Under his leadership and with funds provided by the LA County Sheriff’s Department, the Center pioneered a legal education program for incarcerated women. Sheriff Baca understood that recidivism can be significantly reduced when the parent-child relationship is strengthened, and was instrumental in opening the doors to this new area of service for female inmates.

With this funding, the Center developed the “Mothers Behind Bars Project” to educate incarcerated women at the LA County jail about dependency court, domestic violence, and paternity and child support cases. During the 3-day course lasting 90 minutes each session, the women learned through lecture and problem-solving exercises, and were encouraged to ask questions. At the end of each class, students received a certificate acknowledging their participation. When a student completed the 3-day course, she received a “graduation diploma.” Proud of their accomplishments, many women said it was their first positive educational achievement in several years. Some women presented their certificates in court as evidence of their new knowledge. More than 10,000 incarcerated women have participated in and completed the program.

The “Family Reunification and Reentry Project” was developed by the Center and staff attorney, Katie Ojeda Stewart. It was built upon the Center’s work with women who were formerly incarcerated and in need of legal services and education upon reentry. The goal of the program is to promote healthy family reunifications. Ms. Stewart offers direct legal services and teaches legal education workshops on general principles of custody and visitation to formerly incarcerated mothers. The Center helps connect women with other organizations that provide particular services, including, but not limited to, substance abuse and mental health treatment programs, reentry planning programs and drop-in centers.