Operation Restoration: A Summer of Education, Justice and Reentry

Changemaker Catalyst Award recipient Hannah Cohen worked as a Research and Operations Intern this past summer with Operation Restoration and the Louisiana Prison Education Coalition, where she learned about the Louisiana criminal justice system, reentry services and access to education for formerly incarcerated  women in New Orleans. 

While I’ve been working with the Louisiana Prison Education Coalition (LPEC) and its umbrella organization Operation Restoration for a few years, my experience this past summer highlighted the unwavering potential and hard work of the women involved. It was incredible to continue to learn and grow with them!

Operation Restoration is an organization dedicated to helping formerly incarcerated women and girls access higher education and the fundamental tools needed to help them with reentry. LPEC functions within Operation Restoration to meet education needs by increasing access to current education programs and developing and implementing new higher education programs in prison and re-entry facilities. Now located in the Four Freedoms building in Central City, Operation Restoration operates its Women FIRST Clinic, which provides classes for formerly incarcerated women to pursue educational goals.  The clinic also provides transportation, childcare, dinner, and individual tutoring, clearing a path for women to work towards their academic goals.

Also located in the new building is the Closet, a new resource center for women transitioning back into their community following incarceration where there are clothes, shoes, and accessories free of charge for formerly incarcerated women. In addition, last semester in partnership with Tulane University, OR began offering college level courses to women incarcerated at the Louisiana Correctional Institute for Women. The first cohort had 19 women who were enrolled in an English course with a focus on Women and the Law, and we were excited to plan for next semester and beyond!

My responsibilities included general development work, research, grant writing, and event organization. Along with programming, OR and LPEC’s legislative goals are a major focus, and research, networking and communication around these issues are daily responsibilities.

One highlight of the summer was attending Essence Festival with a group of 8 formerly incarcerated women, where they spoke about their experiences with reentry with Mayor LaToya Cantrell.

Operation Restoration Interns working away!

After being away from New Orleans for the last semester, I was surprised and excited during my first week to hear of the new programming and organizational developments OR and LPEC had experienced. The new working space is fantastic and I could feel the momentum, ambition, and enthusiasm from everyone involved. In addition to learning a great deal about non-profit growth and development, I learned so much from the personal stories of  women and families who have been affected by mass incarceration and the criminal justice system.