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Articles by Julia Lurie

The Toughest Love

For Nearly 50 Years, the Delancey Street Foundation Has Offered an Alternative to Prison.
But Does the Celebrated Program Really Work?

by Julia Lurie, Mother Jones

The headquarters of the Delancey Street Foundation occupies a piece of prime real estate near the base of San Francisco’s Bay Bridge, tucked between luxury condominiums and ritzy waterfront eateries. The 400,000-square-foot, four-story complex looks like a Disneyfied Mediterranean villa, with red tile roofs, flower boxes, and sun-filled windows overlooking the bustling waterfront. Inside are 177 dorms, a pool, a movie theater, and an unpretentious restaurant known as a hangout for local dignitaries. Rep. Nancy Pelosi described the facility as “the living room of the city.”

On a third-floor wall hang dozens of framed photos of “hot shots who like us”—a who’s who of California’s Democratic elite and celebrities of a certain vintage, posing with Delancey’s co-founder and CEO, Mimi Silbert. With her big auburn hair and infectious smile, she’s pictured with Hillary and Bill Clinton, Kamala Harris, former Mayor Willie Brown, Colin Powell, Tony Blair, Clint Eastwood, and Jane Fonda. The grip-and-grins are a tribute to Delancey’s reputation as one of the nation’s highest-profile self-help organizations, known for bringing countless lives back from ...