Human Services / Nonprofit Sector

What we can do with $450,000

September 29, 2021

It costs $450,000 per year to keep one woman jailed in New York City. That startling statistic came up in a gathering of human services organizations that serve women involved in the justice system.

They had come together with NFF to share and deepen their strategic financial management knowledge to support mission delivery and advocate for what they need to do the work they best know how to do. But that number stuck with us. It’s money – taxpayer dollars – that many agree could be put to better use. So we asked them: What would you do with that money?

Unsurprisingly, they had plenty of ways to better spend $450,000: supportive and stable housing, mental health services, medical care, job training, support reuniting with family, and much more. As Melissa Osborne of Women’s Prison Association said: “These are mothers and sisters and daughters and aunts and grandmothers. They have dreams and hopes and desires like everyone else.” Human services organizations are uniquely positioned to bring justice to justice-involved women, helping them to move forward, reconnect with their families, and start to heal. As Tori Curbelo of LifeWay Network put it, “We know each of them are worth it.”

With Rikers Island facing overcrowding, unacceptable living conditions, and staffing shortages, this is a pivotal moment for choosing to invest differently to achieve justice and support our communities. Human services organizations often are the backbones of their neighborhoods, playing a crucial role in their health, education, and vibrancy. They have on-the-ground experience to identify and address their communities’ challenges. Let’s turn to them for their wisdom and support them with the funding they need to do the work they are best positioned to do.

Learn more about the organizations featured in this video:


It costs $450,000 per year to keep one woman jailed in New York City. So we asked human services providers: What would you do with that money?

Arlene Freeman: What would we do with $450,000?

Kiffa Brathwaite: $450,000.

Kristen Edwards: $450,000.

Melissa Osborne: $450,000.

Donna Smith: $450,000.

Tori Curbelo: $450,000 is a lot of money.


Osborne: Oh, hands down. I would invest it in housing.

Freeman: We want our own building – a building so that we can have transitional housing and permanent housing.

Smith: Alternative community-based transitional housing for 15 women, for the cost of what it would take one woman to be housed at Rikers Island.

Edwards: Buy each person an apartment because housing is such a huge, huge piece to stability.

Curbelo: It takes about $3,000 to house 150 women for one month. While at the safe house, they are immersed in a community, social service supports, economic opportunity, legal services, whatever they might need to rebuild their lives. And then after leaving the safe house, they are prepared to transition into society.


Smith: With another $450,000, we could add levels of service that would make our program even more unique and effective.

Brathwaite: Building generational wealth through career pathways with advancement opportunities. Elevating reproductive justice and improving maternal health outcomes. Cultivating a new generation of public speakers and promoting national policy reform. Encouraging healthy lifestyles and connecting more families with free, high quality foods. Expanding housing and life-changing programing to more cities.

Freeman: Hepatitis C testing. HIV testing. Hepatitis C treatment on site. HIV treatment on site. Mental health services, not just for that woman who needs the services, but also for her family, who also may need services to how to reunite, and rebuild, and reestablish their own personal bonds.


Edwards: We would provide two years of a guaranteed income so that our participants can take the time that they need to focus on themselves and their family and healing from the various traumas that they've experienced, and really have a chance to take that time and work on themselves and come up with a plan for themselves.

Freeman: I would want to expand our legal team.

Curbelo: Access to case management, in-house legal and immigration services at a higher rate than ever before. Alumni and aftercare support to ensure a smooth transition into society.

Osborne: Mental health providers – not just psychiatrists, but psychologists and social workers – that would assist the woman in identifying and addressing any trauma that she may be dealing with and helping her to learn new coping mechanisms.

Curbelo: We would invest in safe houses with more clinical interventions by employing more social workers, an onsite nurse, 24-hour counselors. We would fund a psychologist to better meet the needs of a population with complex trauma and polyvictimization needs. We would provide access to behavioral health, economic development, and transportation to ensure the women can make their appointments, get to class, and return home safely.

Freeman: When a woman is coming back into society, we want to be there to meet them at the gate. We want to make sure she has on an outfit that's appropriate to come home and not a state-issued clothing. We want to make sure she has a suitcase, a pocketbook. We want her to have, cell phone. Most importantly, we want her own vehicle so that we can escort her back to the city, escort her to parole, to DSS. Wherever she needs to go, we want to be able to take care her there.

Let’s imagine a different future

Brathwaite: Can you envision the possibilities if we invested that $450,000 per person into ending poverty and incarceration of women and girls?

Edwards: True investment in community resources, so a real focus on improving the lives of the people who have been targeted for so long.

Curbelo: If we had access to those kind of funds, we would use it to rebuild a life, not destroy one.

Edwards: We don't ever give people enough time or space to really be able to move on from the damage that has been done.

Osborne: These are mothers and sisters and daughters and aunts and grandmothers. They have dreams and hopes and desires like everyone else.

Curbelo: Many of them have been incarcerated for crimes that they were compelled to commit during their trafficking situation.

Danielle Minelli Pagnotta: So basically what we're saying is the best way to spend $450,000 is to create an alternative housing solution for women in the community where they can be close to their families, to their children, move forward and start to heal.

Brathwaite: Now is the time to bring justice and hope to impacted women, their families, and to the world.

Freeman: We are in a unique position to service and to help women to move on into the future.

Curbelo: We know each of them are worth it.

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