Speaker announcement: Insight Garden Program leaders

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Leadership characteristics women possess have proven effective in transcending traditional correctional culture. The Insight Garden Program, a nationally recognized rehabilitative program based in California and led by women, will lead the panel discussion “Women in Corrections: Leading Change with Communication, Collaboration and Purpose” at a breakout session.

Panel members Beth Waitkus, Jennifer Leahy and Amanda Berger will bring their more than 25 years of collective experience working in the criminal justice system. They will discuss:

  • how relational leadership can build trust and break down barriers,
  • collaborative and inclusive multi-stakeholder decision making,
  • the use of metaphors from nature as leadership values,
  • the importance of authentic communication, deep listening and emotional intelligence,
  • the consideration of change from a systems perspective,
  • recognizing and building bridges to effect change.

These leadership qualities and values are the cornerstone of Insight Garden Program’s success and have helped to establish it as a proven, evidence-based and reputable in-prison program. These principles also lie at the heart of their curriculum, their work with incarcerated people and their organization. As an outside organization working on the “inside,” Waitkus, Leahy and Berger have gained valuable insights and experience in effective leadership for women working in corrections.

Insight Garden Program focuses on rehabilitation through connection to nature. The program began in 2002 at San Quentin State Prison and now serves more than 3,000 people in eight California prisons, correctional facilities in Indiana and a reentry program in New York. The program facilitates an innovative curriculum combined with vocational gardening and landscaping training that not only enables participants to reconnect to self, community and the natural world but also improves prison culture, promotes positive interaction between staff and offenders, and helps people leaving prison find jobs. A 2011 study of IGP graduates released into our communities found that fewer than 10 percent returned to prison.

Beth Waitkus is the founding director of the Insight Garden Program. As executive director, Waitkus has overseen the expansion of the program. She has won accolades for her prison work and is featured in the book, Eco Amazons: 20 Women Who are Transforming the World by Dorka Keehn. Waitkus is also a recipient of the Hotchkiss School’s Community Service Award and was featured on ABC World News “Making America Strong” with Diane Sawyer. She is a member of the American Correctional Association’s Sustainability-Oriented and Environmentally Responsible Practices Committee. In 2018, IGP received California’s most prestigious environmental honor in the state – the Governor’s Environmental and Economic Leadership Award. Waitkus holds a M.S. in Organization Development from Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business and a B.A. in Political Science from Tufts University.

Jennifer Leahy is a co-facilitator for Insight Garden Program at Avenal State Prison as well as the program director for Project Rebound at California State University Fresno and an adjunct lecturer in the Criminology Department there. She teaches Theory, Juvenile Delinquency; Drugs, Alcohol and Crime; and Administration and Management and works as a research assistant to Dr. Barbara Owen. Owen Research and Evaluation conducts research in the criminal justice field primarily on female offenders for Fresno County, the Thailand Institute of Justice, the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and many other agencies. Leahy promotes education within the correctional system at a variety of prisons as a means to reduce recidivism and improve the quality of our communities at every opportunity through Project Rebound. In addition, she participates as a volunteer for Bill Glass Behind the Walls Ministry which conducts Christian outreach inside institutions across the United States. Leahy obtained her Masters in Criminology after her release from Central California Women’s Facility in 2006. Her combination of education and practical experience of incarceration puts her in a unique leadership position to assist those interested in effective programming to reduce recidivism.

Amanda Berger is the program director of the Insight Garden Program. She is passionate about working with social justice organizations and has a special interest in criminal justice reform, including efforts to expand quality educational opportunities for incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people. As program director, she supports IGP’s program managers at eight California prisons and continues to manage IGP’s flagship program at San Quentin State Prison. She also is helping to develop a “reentry bridge” model and doing outreach to Bay Area and Southern California employers and community organizations to provide ongoing support for IGP’s returning citizens. Berger was a past facilitator in training with the Victim Offender Education Group at a women’s prison in Chowchilla, California. She is an affiliated coach with RoadMap, the Rockwood Leadership Institute, the Haas Flexible Leadership Awards and is on the faculty of Leadership that Works. Berger is also on the board of UnCommon Law, which provides pro-bono representation to people going before the parole board in California.

This year, Berger was inducted into the Justice category of the Alameda County Women’s Hall of Fame.


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