Once a month, Leslie Brown buses children to see their mothers—inmates housed at Dwight and Kankakee Correctional Centers in Illinois. She offers self-esteem classes for the women, provides referrals to social services, and helps the children's caregivers with housing, counseling, and clothing through her Chicago-based organization, Support Advocates for Women.
Brown also runs Leslie's Place, a transitional home that provides housing for eight women who are recently released from prison. Brown and her youngest children live in the home. There she offers parenting and life skills and holds a weekly Bible study. The Illinois Department of Corrections now funds part of her program, a partnership that is unique in the state's history.
Brown began the program soon after she was released from prison, when she faced the challenge of raising her six children with little support. Since 1994, 80 women have passed through Leslie's Place, and only three have returned to prison. Given the state recidivism rate of 60 percent, and the $30,000 it costs to hold one inmate for a year, Leslie's Place has saved the state thousands of dollars.
Support Advocates for Women is one of hundreds of successful faith-based ministries across the country. Many had the opportunity to learn from Brown's work at Call to Renewal's National Summit on the Churches and Welfare Reform, held January 31 to February 3 outside Washington, D.C. More than 650 people—twice as many as expected, representing hundreds of organizations from more than 35 states—focused on successful models of faith-based ministries. Twenty-nine denominations were represented, and participants included state senators, legislators, and other local and regional elected officials, as well as representatives of the social service departments of nine states.