Program that costs about the same as a year of incarceration gets female inmates back to their lives and children in lieu of sentencing.
According to a Route-Fifty article, 80 percent of women in local jails have minor children. The piece went on to cite research showing that children of incarcerated adults have a higher incidence of depression, antisocial behavior, untreated mental health issues and drug addiction. From the article:
One study found that children of incarcerated parents were six times more likely to end up in prison themselves.
With these staggering statistics a Tulsa, Oklahoma program, Women in Recovery, was born out of a study commissioned by the Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF). While the approach in Tulsa is non-governmental, advocates claim a similar strategy can be undertaken by local governments. Women in Recovery is designed to take women off the path to prison and onto a road to a fulfilling, self-sufficient life.
Services offer group therapy and treatment for addiction, mental health issues, and past trauma. The program also helps with parenting and reuniting women with children, assistance with family relations, housing, education and stable, meaningful employment with livable wages. This support structure was also found to lower the burden of collateral issues that often result in ongoing contact with criminal courts including unpaid fines, suspended driver’s licenses, misdemeanors, and parental rights issues.
Female inmates are currently referred to the program by judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys once they have encountered the court system. Program candidates are often in local jails awaiting sentencing but it can be put on hold if the eligible individual enrolls and graduates from the program. From a cost perspective, the KFF study found the program to be about the same as one year in prison for an individual and resulted in less ongoing costs by getting the inmate back on their feet rather than extending the stay.
A Women in Recovery program coordinator offered the following advice to local governments:
Use evidence-based practices. Know your community. Know what the in-demand occupations are [so that] you are filling a need that the community has while also filling a need for those you’re serving.