Kathy Boudin: A Great Life and A Great Loss

In prison, Kathy underwent a profound transformation, grappling with her crime and its consequences. She became a leading advocate for women in prison, fighting for the reunification of imprisoned women and their children, bringing college courses back to Bedford Hills after the termination of Pell grants, and building a community response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, saving countless lives. She was the first woman to earn a masters degree while incarcerated in New York State Prison. Her outward-facing initiatives became a path to seeking restorative justice for many, and eventually led to parole and release from prison.

After Kathy was paroled in 2003, she avoided public appearances or statements, seeking private reconciliation and time with family and friends. She founded the Coming Home Program at the Spencer Cox Center for Health at Mt. Sinai/St.Luke’s Hospital in Morningside Heights, which provides health care for people returning from incarceration. She went on to earn a doctorate from Columbia University Teachers College in 2007; to teach at the Columbia School of Social Work; and to co-found and co-direct the Center for Justice at Columbia University. Among other things, since 2010 the Center for Justice organized an annual movement building conference, “Beyond the Bars” which attracts thousands of activists, organizers, academics, and justice impacted people from down the block and around the world. “More than just an academic conference, Beyond the Bars is led by formerly incarcerated people and has built a global community at the forefront of justice reform,” said Cheryl Wilkins co-founder of the Center for Justice. “Kathy was instrumental in developing Release Aging People from Prison (RAPP), uplifting the voices of women through work with the National Council for Incarcerated and Formerly Incarcerated Women and Girls, and so much more.”

Kathy’s work had a major impact on the struggle for the decent treatment of incarcerated people, the fight against mass incarceration, and on criminal justice reform. Jarrell E. Daniels, a staff member at Columbia’s Center for Justice and a formerly incarcerated person says, “Kathy’s legacy, mission and lifetime commitment to advancing social justice, supporting disadvantaged communities and reforming the criminal legal system will never be forgotten, especially by those whose lives she touched… Her leadership with the Center for Justice empowered community members and returning citizens to stand as advocates for institutional and systematic change. Although she was a mother of one, she was a mother and fearless leader in the global movement for justice reform, social equality and re-enfranchisement. For so many of us, Kathy was a legend that defied odds and broke through the boundaries. She will never be forgotten.”

Activist and Professor Angela Davis said, “Kathy is one of my oldest friends. We’ve known each other since high school, and we’ve done work against the prison industrial complex for the last twenty some years since Kathy herself was released from prison.”

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