Incarcerated Women and the Mission of the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law

The Los Angeles Regional Reentry Partnership (LARRP) is a countywide network of public, community and faith-based agencies and advocates working together to provide support and advance positive change for formerly incarcerated and convicted Angelenos. The Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law, through its Women’s Gender-Responsive Jail Project, is proud to partner with LARRP in its mission to support the development and implementation of a comprehensive, culturally competent effective community reentry system as well as alternatives to incarceration. Read below for our feature in LARRP’s July Member Spotlight, and click here to read on their website.

Long before women enter the criminal justice system, they are victims. Whether because of physical and sexual violence, substance abuse or poverty, the lives of incarcerated women are often mired in systemic and personal trauma. Most women are incarcerated for non-violent offenses, pose a lower security risk, and are more responsive to rehabilitation. And yet, for the grave vulnerabilities of these women, they are often left with the fewest social resources.

For the 80 percent of women in jail who are mothers, this trauma translates into the lives of their children. Children of incarcerated mothers face not only the devastating psychological effects of losing a parent, but must also weather the familial and financial instability unique to families impacted by incarceration.

Motivated by the unmet needs of incarcerated women, the fastest growing jailed population, the Harriett Buhai Center for Family Law is committed to utilizing its resources and experience to engage in efforts positively affecting these ignored women and their families.

What We Do

Over the last 15 years, the Harriett Buhai Center has been a consistent advocate for incarcerated women in the following ways:

  • Mothers Behind Bars Program: Since 2004, Center attorneys have provided a legal education program to thousands of women at Century Regional Detention Facility (CDRF), the largest women’s jail in the U.S., located in Los Angeles. Classes seek to improve the students’ understanding of the family and child welfare legal systems. This knowledge empowers students to improve their parent-child relationships and take action against domestic violence.
  • Women’s Gender-Responsive Jail Project: Originally named the Mira Loma Women’s Jail Project, this project aimed to investigate, monitor, and provide recommendations related to the proposed move of the Los Angeles County Women’s Jail. The Center anticipated family ties and rehabilitation would be harmed by moving the jail 90 miles away from the existing hub of service providers, courts, and community organizations. Its seminal report, Lynwood to Lancaster, was relied upon in part by the Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors in February 2019 when announcing their decision to abandon the long distance Mira Loma move. Through the project, the Center continues to work with Los Angeles County and Sheriff Department personnel as members of the Gender Responsive Advisory Committee (GRAC).
  • Community Legal Education Program: Begun as a pilot in early 2019, the Center started teaching men’s and women’s legal education classes at various Probation offices. Well received, the Center hopes to expand the program as probation departments across the county become increasingly interested in strengthening the relationships of formerly incarcerated parents and their children.
  • Individual Legal Assistance to Formerly Incarcerated Women: Beginning with a 2010-12 Equal Justice Works Fellowship, the Center has directly served justice-involved women in the family law courts to increase contact and create the foundation for healthier relationships.
  • What We’ve Accomplished

  • Our Fall 2019 report was influential in halting the move to a remote jail location.
  • A new Director of Gender Responsive Services will be hired by the Sheriff’s Department to centralize leadership for gender-responsive programming and improvements.
  • An expert consultant will be hired to work with the Gender Responsive Advisory Committee (GRAC) and Sheriff’s Department leadership to transform the women’s jail into a gender-responsive system. 
  • The GRAC was ordered to be reinstated by the LA County Board of Supervisors, and will provide recommendations on issues that specifically affect women who are incarcerated.
  • The four GRAC subcommittees – Reentry, Programming, Pregnant Residents, and Visitation – hold regular meetings and propose changes to their respective areas (the Center sits on the Reentry Subcommittee and chairs the Visitation Subcommittee).
  • The Future of Our Efforts

    The Harriett Buhai Center plans to continue its focus and build on its efforts to create a gender responsive system for women who are incarcerated in LA in order to address the trauma in their lives and strengthen their relationships with their children. The work this year will include:

  • Working with County and Sheriff Department personnel to ensure the timely hiring of a Director of Gender Responsive Services and an expert consultant on gender responsive systems to evaluate the current jail programs for women;
  • Advocating for the re-start of and participating in a strong and effective GRAC focused on the needs of incarcerated women;
  • Evaluating and advocating for increased visitation with children at the LA County Jail;
  • Advocating for improved and additional re-entry planning;
  • Participating in and advocating for County efforts to create alternatives to incarceration for women which are designed to be gender-responsive.
  • In addition to its reform agenda, the Harriett Buhai Center will continue to utilize its expertise to provide legal education in the jail and community and free individual legal advice, counseling and representation for women about custody and other family matters.

    For further information about the Center’s work please contact Ricca Prasad, Project Assistant 213-388-7505 ext. 344,