Maureen Barden ’78 has been named a 2013 Soros Justice Fellow by the Open Society Foundations. A former federal prosecutor, she is one of 14 fellows who will pursue full-time projects related to Open Society’s broad goals of curbing mass incarceration, eliminating harsh punishment, and ensuring justice system accountability in the United States. Each Soros Justice Fellow receives a stipend of up to $110,250.
Barden, most recently the prisoner reentry coordinator for the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of Pennsylvania, will work with the Pennsylvania Health Law Project to develop and implement model policies and practices that build on opportunities provided by the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) to give former inmates better access to health care. Apart from her 18 years as an assistant U.S. attorney in the Eastern District, serving as chief of government and health care fraud and senior trial counsel as well as coordinating her office’s strategies for addressing violent crime, Barden worked for the Environmental Protection Agency; the Manhattan District Attorney’s Office; the firm Donovan, Leisure, Newton, & Irvine; the New York State Special Commission on Attica; and the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment inquiry investigating Richard Nixon. As one of the Justice Department’s first six prison reentry coordinators nationwide, Barden played a pivotal role in establishing in Philadelphia one of the first federal reentry courts for high-risk offenders, and referred to that work as one of her “proudest achievements.” She began her project in May, and her fellowship lasts until November 2014.
As Barden explained, although the ACA will expand Medicaid eligibility and establish state-based health insurance exchanges that will improve health care for former prisoners, barriers to meaningful health care access still exist. “While some correctional facilities help enroll eligible individuals into public assistance programs as part of their pre-release planning services, conducting such eligibility determination and enrollment has been outside their traditional function,” said Barden. “I plan to work with criminal justice, public benefits, and health care stakeholders to ensure that the ACA’s expansion of health coverage connects the formerly incarcerated to health care providers that can meet their preventive, acute, and chronic care needs.” She points to multiple studies indicating a correlation between increased health care access and decreased recidivism: “Anything that assists the reentering population with basic needs and reinforces their ties to the larger community is likely to help people stay out of jail.”
Moving from prosecution to post-incarceration outreach was a welcome change for Barden. “The transition I made wasn't difficult at all,” she said, “and was one I actively sought as federal sentences became longer and longer and mandatory sentencing laws tied our hands in so many cases. I was anxious to help people stay out of prison, and working with the reentering population was a natural segue from my work as a prosecutor.”
Posted on June 11, 2013