Dr. Mimi Silbert, a Criminal Psychologist, is a social entrepreneur, Co-Founder, Board Chair, President and CEO of The Delancey Street Foundation. She earned a bachelor’s degree in English from the University of Massachusetts in 1963, a master’s degree in 1965 and a doctorate in Counseling Psychology and Criminology from the University of California at Berkeley in 1968.
Dr. Silbert has been driven to help the underprivileged throughout her life. She has a talent for developing innovative ways of bringing positive change to society, which comes from being an immigrant struggling in New York during her childhood. Her inspiration to rehabilitate convicted felons were further cultivated from her career as a Correctional Treatment Specialist at Lorton Prison and Youth Center in Lorton, Virginia, during the late 60s. Her first-hand knowledge with the prison system revealed that it was failing ex-convicts because they were being released without learning social responsibility and/or the essential educational and job skills required to become productive, law-abiding citizens. From this experience, she began to envision a place where ex-convicts and those whom may be at risk for entering the prison system, could learn how to transform their own lives by learning valuable social and vocational skills. She believed her ideas would decrease taxpayer costs from repeat offenders and increase the success rates of criminals as they entered back into society. Her motivation to seek change and rehabilitate America’s criminals resulted in the birth of The Delancey Street Foundation.
In 1971, Dr. Mimi Silbert founded The Delancey Street Foundation along with the late John Maher, who was an ex-felon. The Foundation is an organization headquartered out of San Francisco, California, which helps criminals, ex-convicts, prostitutes, and substance abusers gain control of their lives by finding self-sufficiency through personal and professional rehabilitation, allowing them to lead productive and successful lives with no cost to the client or taxpayer. It is a residential educational and rehabilitative center that generates its own income, in excess of $10 million each year, through its “training schools” in more than 20 businesses that its clients work in during their time in the program. The Foundation hosts extended residences in Los Angeles, California; Santa Fe, New Mexico; Brewster, New York; Charlotte, North Carolina; and Massachusetts. Psychiatrist Karl Menninger calls Dr. Silbert’s organization "the best and most successful rehabilitation program in the world."
The six operations hold approximately 2,000 residents combined at any one time and in excess of 14,000 people have graduated since its inception. The minimum commitment is two years, although the average stay is four. Dr. Silbert remains personally committed to those who become part of her program by living at the complex, abiding by its rules, working closely with the clients each day and accepting no salary. Candidates are required to write letters describing their personal commitments to making positive changes in their lives, after which an interview with a resident leader takes place and if necessary, a judge grants permission to enter the program. The ages of the majority of the program’s participants are between 18 and 68, with approximately one-quarter being women. They are trained in valuable academic and marketable vocational skills, develop key social and interpersonal skills, and learn essential attitudes and values, which gives them the capability of becoming self-reliant to lead legitimate lives without the risk of becoming repeat offenders. In order to be eligible for graduation, all residents are required to earn their GEDs and be trained in three different marketable trades, such as technology and computers, clerical work or physical labor. The program also offers accredited Bachelor of Arts degrees. Nearly all those whom leave The Delancey Street Foundation enter mainstream society being crime, alcohol and drug-free.
In 1998, The Foundation created a new division called Coalition to Revitalize Communities, Lives, Education and Economies (CIRCLE), which collaborates with public and private agencies to expand Dr. Silbert’s unique rehabilitative and vocational model of success. She also acts as the Headmaster along with other organizations in Texas, South Carolina, Texas, South Africa, Great Britain, New Zealand and Singapore to operate charter public high schools for at-risk youths, called the Life Learning Academy.
Although The Delancey Street Foundation is Dr. Silbert’s primary work, she is also a nationally recognized criminal justice planner and evaluator, having directed more than 100 projects for agencies, such as the John D. Rockefeller Foundation, the Federal Bureau of Prisons, the National Institute of Corrections and the National Institute of Mental Health. She designed juvenile and adult justice master plans for numerous cities and states, and conducted and published an in-depth research study on prostitution.
As a result of her pioneering work, Dr. Silbert and The Delancey Street Foundation have received numerous awards, such as 10 Honorary Doctorate Degrees, the President's Medallions from the University of San Francisco and UC San Francisco, the Living Legacy Award from the Women’s International Fund, the Women Who Could Be President Award, the National Caring Award, the National Common Cause's Public Service Achievement Award and The Mahatma Gandhi Humanitarian Award. She also received the International Association of Business Communicators Leadership Award and was inducted into the San Francisco Business Hall of Fame. Religious awards include the Muslim Award, The Tree of Life Award from the Jewish National Fund and the Pope John XXIII Award from the Catholic Federation. In 2002, she was presented with the Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award from Harvard Kennedy School’s Center for Public Leadership at an award ceremony along with Mike Farrell, who is an actor and advocate against the death penalty. The Gleitsman Citizen Activist Award honors those who illustrate commitment to correcting social injustice and encourage worldwide social activism and leadership.
Her work and unrivaled commitment and dedication to transformation lives through The Delancey Street Foundation have been written up in more than 35 books, as well as in publications, such as the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, The Washington Post and the London Times. Articles have been written about Dr. Mimi Silbert in Biography Magazine, Reader’s Digest, Parade Magazine and People Magazine, in addition to a multitude of other local, national and international magazines and newspapers.
Through The Delancey Street Foundation, Dr. Mimi Silbert has given at-risk youth, inner city poverty, prostitutes, drug addicts and ex-convicts hope in a world of despair. Her exceptional integrity and vision, as well as her belief that through discipline and courage, people who receive the support they need can break free from cycles of destruction, achieve the seemingly impossible and realize their dreams has transformed the lives of those in need. Her persistence and determination have built an entirely unique, entrepreneurial organization capable of affecting community change and enabling those who were a part of the problem to become a vital part of the solution, instead. To those people, Dr. Mimi Silbert is a true hero.