Carol Shapiro

Ashoka Fellow
United States
Fellow Since 2001
This description of Carol Shapiro's work was prepared when Carol Shapiro was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2001 .


Carol Shapiro is demonstrating how government agencies can tap the natural resource of families and communities to help individuals succeed–and their families benefit–under community-based justice supervision.

The New Idea

Carol believes that the very families that are often destabilized by drugs and crime are, in fact, a major stabilizing influence for those under community-based justice supervision. By drawing upon family members' mutual loyalties, desire to help, and availability (often, 24 hours a day), supervision agencies can improve supervision and treatment outcomes, as well as family well-being. Carol's organization, Family Justice, is helping government agencies identify these under-utilized family resources and mobilize needed support systems for supervisees and their families. Carol's idea contains a number of innovations. For example, Carol's model builds on the strengths of the family rather than on the deficits of the individual. It identifies untapped areas in which family members can offer support to each other, while also identifying areas of family and/or individual need that can be addressed through social service interventions. Secondly, the model builds upon supports in the community, thus engaging the help of powerful systems that, when coordinated, can function as a cost-effective safety net for the family. The model also looks to partnerships with government to create a framework in which all parties involved feel a sense of ownership of the philosophy, methodology, tools–and success–of its practice. Having first applied her model to a population of substance abusers under community-based justice supervision from a storefront facility in lower Manhattan, Carol is now applying the model in other venues and with other populations under justice system supervision. Today, Carol's justice innovation enjoys broad-based support from both the public and private sectors and is creating a paradigm shift–moving community supervision practices away from a coercive, criminal punishment model and toward a collaborative, public health model.

The Problem

Never before in our history have so many Americans faced the likelihood of imprisonment at some point in their lives. The rate of imprisonment in the U.S. is the highest in the world; according to the 2003 Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), some two million citizens are currently behind bars. What's more, due to mandatory-minimum sentencing, more people than ever are serving longer terms. Compounding these problems is the fact that the number of individuals being sent to prison for probation and parole violations has grown dramatically. For example, the number of men and women sent to state prisons rose from 460,739 in 1990 to over 565,000 in 1998, a 22.7 percent increase. However, new criminals accounted for only 7.5 percent of this increase. The vast majority are being sent to prison for violating the terms of their supervision.An unexpected consequence of this "get-tough-on-crime" policy is that as the total prison population has grown so, too, has the number of prisoners being released under parole or probation supervision each year. This year, for example, some 600,000 prisoners will be released from our nation's state and federal prisons, up from 170,000 in 1980. These released prisoners face serious challenges. According to the BJS, at the time of their imprisonment, 82 percent of all prisoners were abusing drugs or alcohol, 40 percent were unemployed, 19 percent were homeless, and approximately 75 percent had not completed high school. For many, the realities of prison life, including diminished opportunity to access education, job training, drug treatment, and physical and mental health care, only exacerbate their problems. These combined effects make it unlikely that many prisoners will find and hold jobs, maintain stable family lives, and stay drug and crime free once they are released. The result is that more and more individuals are cycling in and out of our nation's prisons and jails–and more and more families are becoming destabilized.The cost to society of this prison recycling is high. Between 1985 and 1996, total state prison expenditures across the U.S. more than doubled. But this is not the only expense. Substance abuse, physical and mental illness, domestic violence, and criminal justice involvement are often passed from one generation to the next, exacting an enormous financial, social, and emotional cost on the family. Carol understands that the consequences of substance abuse and criminal justice involvement extend far beyond the supervisee and take in family members and, indeed, the entire community. But unlike other criminal justice responses, Carol believes that it is the family and the community that can lead the way out–to the individual's successful maintenance in the community and, ultimately, to break multigenerational cycles of substance abuse and criminal justice involvement.

The Strategy

Carol's strategy her family-focused intervention began with the identification of a group that might benefit most from such intervention. Given the high rates of drug addiction among criminal justice populations, she chose to focus her first efforts on supervisees with a history of substance abuse. She sought to test the proposition that by engaging and supporting their families she could improve drug treatment and supervision outcomes, reduce the use of reincarceration in response to relapse, and address the needs of family members in the process. In 1996, Carol founded La Bodega de la Familia, which operated at first as a demonstration project of the Vera Institute of Justice. La Bodega de la Familia ("the family grocery") is a storefront family support center, located in a poor, yet vibrant Latino community on Manhattan's Lower East Side. Carol found the space during a "ride-along" with the New York City Police Department. The space, abandoned and in ruin, had been the site of a shootout, which left a police officer seriously wounded and an alleged drug dealer dead. Within months and with the help of local merchants and pro bono contractors, Carol transformed the space into a brightly colored, safe space for residents of what is colloquially called the Loisaida. At La Bodega, Carol developed a unique family case management (FCM) approach, now called the Bodega Model, which focuses on the family, broadly defined. The model brings together the FCM team, including the supervisee, family members, the supervision officer, and a La Bodega family case manager, to create a web of support around the supervisee - and the family. The Bodega Model supplements drug treatment and community supervision by building resilient family systems that encourage recovery and successful reintegration. In addition to FCM, La Bodega provides an array of services, including counseling and relapse prevention services, 24-hour support for drug-related emergencies, employment support services for all family members; a variety of support groups; and a host of educational and cultural programs for participants and residents of the community. All La Bodega services are offered free of charge.Gus was a La Bodega client whose story illustrates the success of Carol's FCM approach. Even before his release on parole, Gus's family case manager met with Gus's mother and younger brother in their home and developed a plan to help strengthen the family. Upon his release, Gus and members of his FCM team met regularly. Gus's parole officer linked him up with an outpatient drug treatment program; his family case manager linked other family members to much-needed social services. For months, Gus stayed "clean" and out of trouble. When Gus relapsed, it was his mother who called La Bodega. The FCM team met to determine a course of action. Instead of being sent back to prison for violating parole, the FCM team developed an alternative plan, which included detox and a substance abuse treatment center for Gus and continuing support for his family. As Gus's story indicates, in order for families to support a loved one, they may need support, too. That support often comes in the form of emotional support from La Bodega staff members who are trained in counseling skills and in the use of FCM tools and practices. These tools and practices are designed to engage clients and assess their needs for financial, legal, educational, medical, drug prevention and treatment, and other social supports. Family case managers and supervision agents are also aware of the important role that culture plays in the lives of their clients. Making connections with families in their own homes, through faith-based and civic groups, and other community organizations becomes an important part of La Bodega's strategy. La Bodega's institutional partners are the myriad criminal justice agencies concerned with the success of the thousands of individuals mandated to community-based justice supervision and outpatient drug treatment each year. Historically, these agencies respond to relapse with incarceration. Through her FCM approach, Carol gives added confidence to supervision and law enforcement agencies, suggesting that a punitive approach to relapse interrupts treatment, and is often counterproductive. The results of a recent Vera evaluation of La Bodega is proving her point: When a group of drug users and family members enrolled in La Bodega's FCM program was compared to a group of drug users and family members from a contiguous police precinct, the FCM participants reported reduced drug use in all categories and reduced rates of arrest and conviction for new crimes; and families reported fewer unmet needs for social services and higher levels of social functioning. Through La Bodega, Carol is offering supervision agencies an alternative way of doing their work. As Carol says: "It is so simple. It is about respect. It is about how they treat families. By changing their attitudes, parole and probation officers can come to see families not as part of the problem, but as an important part of the solution. Indeed, families can help supervision agencies do their jobs better." The Bigger PictureTo achieve her larger goal of effecting community supervision policy and practices at the national level, Carol started Family Justice as a new national nonprofit in July 2001. Continuing to use La Bodega as its laboratory, Carol wants, through Family Justice, to explore the Bodega Model's applicability to other government institutions and criminal justice populations. To move her innovation to the national level, Carol has created three new departments for Family Justice: training and technical assistance, national operations, and research and clinical development. To have the large-scale impact she seeks, Carol does not want to franchise La Bodega. Instead, her goal is to disseminate the principles and tools of the Bodega Model to systems already operating in government and at the community level. For example, Family Justice is providing training and technical assistance to personnel in the drug and family courts system, probation and parole, public housing, and community and public health agencies. Carol is also adapting the model to address the unique needs of at-risk juveniles, individuals diagnosed with mental illness; and the elderly. Family Justice's research and clinical development branch measures the effect and outcomes of the Bodega Model as it is applied to different populations and in different venues. The results are used to refine the model still further and, ultimately, to influence community supervision policy and practices at the local, state, and national levels. Carol is also considering the possible replication of the Bodega Model in other communities, using the results of the research and, always, the lessons learned at La Bodega.

The Person

Carol Shapiro grew up in Philadelphia. Her childhood experiences created in her a deep sense of life's inequities, and she resolved to find ways to lessen the impact of those inequities on others. She visited her first jail when she was sixteen. She met with wardens and inmates, listening carefully to their stories. At the end of her work there, she had more questions than answers, but she knew she had found her life's work. Throughout her college years, she continued to visit jails and eventually prisons, hearing more of the stories of those incarcerated and their families, and seeing first-hand how the criminal justice system functioned.Her professional path has "zigzagged" across the criminal justice field, giving her an opportunity to gather the tools and knowledge needed to found La Bodega and, ultimately, Family Justice. Her first jobs were creating pre-release programs and running an alternative sentencing project. Both work experiences furthered her ambition to "keep people out of jail." Both taught her that "if you are to create change, you must first invest locally," a principle that has been central to her work at Family Justice. Later in her career, after a two-month study tour of the Scandinavian criminal justice system and work in victim services, she concluded that "victims and offenders are often the same people." Then, as a senior policy analyst for the Deputy Mayor for the City of New York, she got an insider's view of the role government and public financing play in shaping criminal justice in the U.S.Then it was off to the United Kingdom, where Carol worked on a women's prison project for the British Home Secretary's office. After two years there, Carol returned to the States to serve as the Assistant Commissioner of the New York City Department of Corrections. Responsible for the management and operation of alternative sentencing programs and correctional operations at Riker's Island, the nation's largest urban jail system, Carol became aware of a central discrepancy in the system: families were not being consulted about how best to address the needs of those caught in our criminal justice system. She came to believe that families, and, by extension, their communities, must play central roles in the rehabilitation of those under justice system supervision and in breaking multigenerational cycles of criminal justice involvement. Carol's strengths-based approach uses the family, rather than the individual, as the unit of analysis, thus placing the onus of responsibility upon multiple shoulders - the individual, his or her family, supervision agents, and government and community-based service providers. Carol believes that these new partnerships will ultimately change the face of community supervision in America, while also changing our own understanding of, and sense of responsibility for, those caught in the criminal justice system. Each day, the people walking in and out of La Bodega's and Family Justice's offices, show this same promise on their faces.