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How One Nonprofit Breaks the Cycle of Incarceration

Staffed mostly by ex-offenders, New York’s Fortune Society works to build a safety net for its clients, even before they’re released from jail or prison.
The Rikers Island jail complex with Manhattan in the background
The Rikers Island jail complex with Manhattan in the background Seth Wenig/AP

Nearly 700,000 men and women get out of prison every year. According to the National Institute of Justice, almost two-thirds of them are arrested again within three years; within five, more than three-quarters are rearrested. For former prisoners who lack education, employment skills, or housing, or have an addiction or mental health problem, the odds are stacked against them.

Since 1967, when it was founded by the activist and Broadway producer David Rothenberg, a nonprofit called the Fortune Society has worked to break the cycle of recidivism in New York City. (Rothenberg was inspired by research visits he made to Rikers Island, the city jail, when producing the play Fortune and Men’s Eyes.) The organization—which has two locations in Harlem and one in Long Island City—works to get the formerly incarcerated back on their feet through a range of services, including housing (emergency, semi-permanent, and permanent), counseling, a single-stop access to public benefits, education and training, and employment help.