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INCARCERATED WOMEN: EXACERBATION OF ISSUES, NEEDS, AND BARRIERS

Most of the information we have to help women is based on research that is focused on men and that must be seen as abusing the vulnerability of women.

(In box) Tap the knowledge of an expert, contact Stephanie Covington by email at [email protected] (see more at the end of this page) I. Who are incarcerated women? This exploding population increased by 432 percent from 1986 to 1991 and continues to grow at a rate twice that of men's incarceration rates. Their crimes are less likely to be violent offenses and more likely to involve alcohol, drugs and property offenses -- about twice the percentage of those offenses as compared to men but half the number of violent offenses compared to men. Women are seldom major drug dealers or traffickers. When they do commit violent offenses, they are most often against a man who was abusing them and they rarely pose any such threat to the general public. Female offenders spend more time in jail because they are less likely to have bail money or money to hire an attorney. Substance abuse related crime probably accounts for up to 85% of women's incarcerations but less than 5% have access to treatment in most jails or prisons. Psychiatric disorders of chemical abuse or dependence, depression, anxiety or other mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder and personality disorders are prevalent but Antisocial Personality Disorder is found in only about one fourth of females in jails and prisons (the number for males is higher). ". . .most female offenders are poor, undereducated, and unskilled"(Stephanie Covington), far more so than their male counter parts, and about 65% are from minority groups. It is estimated that up to 90% of female offenders have histories of physical and sexual abuse...including incest, rape, other sexual assault, domestic violence and other physical and emotional abuse. Such histories bring females into contact with the criminal justice system at an early age by leading to running away as a juvenile, prostitution, shoplifting and selling drugs. Males are more likely to use drugs for the rush or excitement, but females are more likely to do so to medicate the pain of abusive histories and/or to obtain a relationship.

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Male offenders are more likely to violate the law around issues of power, control and thrills, but female offenders violate the law more often for economic or relational needs (i.e. a female will shoplift to meet family needs). Women's offenses, associated with relationships and violent offenses, tend to be one time offenses related to getting out of an abusive relationship combined with either a possession or prostitution charge. Incarcerated women have an average of one to three children and up to 10% of these women are pregnant, and their 200,000 children are more than likely candidates for the "vicious cycle"(six times more likely to be incarcerated). The women described above became the "product" of the war on drugs rather than the intended enemy (drug traffickers) -- so, as the crime rate goes down, the numbers incarcerated go up largely at the expense of women. Once in the system, abuse of female vulnerability by the system makes it hard to get out. Though "equal" treatment of male and female offenders sounds like a just approach, it actually targets women and creates victims of the system. Less than 3% of the budgets of jails and prisons goes to any and all programs (including bibles and recreational equipment) -- and a microscopic amount goes to programs aimed at addressing the special needs of the women described above. Incarcerated women are many times more likely to be HIV, Hepatitis B & C, and STD positive than their male counter parts. II. What are the special issues, needs, and barriers for incarcerated women? Jails and prisons exacerbate many of the issues listed above. The milieu enhances "victimhood," learned helplessness, passivity, shame, and violation of human rights. Physical and sexual abuse leading to disorders like post-traumatic stress disorder are replicated by treatment such as strip and cavity searches, hand cuffs and shackles, confinement to small cells, isolation, and control by largely male staff. Lack of privacy, a patriarchal system, separation from children, and overt/covert criminal abuse and neglect at the hands of corrections staff all lead to further damage and re-traumatization of women. Addictions are often multiple and pervasive involving not only chemicals but also sex, relationships, food, behaviors and other areas. Addictions permeate the factors which define this population and they need gender specific treatment focused on healing in the areas of discovery of self, relationships, sexuality, and spirituality. (Covington) The limited resources and staff are often most focused on a non-gender specific, male dominated form of services (i.e. much treatment and 12 step support is white middle class male focused unless revised for females). Pregnancy brings a whole plethora of issues needing services highlighting one of our society's blind spots -- babies behind bars. Prenatal care with appropriate medical, nutritional, educational, environmental, and family support services are woefully deficient in jails and prisons.

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The separation of mother and child at this critical bonding period is often a certainty. Emotional and mood disorder matters are rarely addressed adequately but of serious concern with this population. The delivery is usually outside of the jail or prison, limited to 24 to 48 hours outside the walls, typically the woman is shackled and handcuffed even to the delivery bed, and a deputy or guard is always present. Often the newborn is taken away immediately to DSS/CPS unless a family member has been designated to pick up the child. Incarceration, addiction, and pregnancy are each major life stressors to be contended with -- for this population and taken collectively, they become nearly insurmountable obstacles for a person without a voice. III. Solutions do exist but will not be quickly, easily or cheaply implemented. Appropriate medical, nutritional, environmental, substance abuse and mental health treatment inside facilities with transitional networking to outside services is essential. The entire criminal justice system needs to be more "restorative" and "therapeutic" so that the milieu is healing and not damaging. Incarceration cannot be thought of as punishment any longer -- the sentence was the punishment, now time needs to be spent with the purpose of healing, education, and transformation. Attention must be paid to the whole family system and the long range benefits of treating and keeping families together -- the hundreds of thousands of children of incarcerated women will be caught in the cycle if the cycle is not broken. Parenting from jail or prison can receive creative attention with innovative ways of maintaining healthy bonds. A few institutions across the country allow the mother to keep their child in the facility but the liability issues are great. In Virginia, Goochland has the M.I.L.K. Program -- Moms Incarcerated Loving Kids. Dr. Norma Finkelstein calls pregnancy a window of opportunity for personal change --especially in the first and third trimesters. Windows of opportunity and teachable moments must be identified and exploited to the benefit of pregnant, incarcerated women -- often the focus in on times such as release when the woman is not emotionally available or receptive. Jail and prison staffs must be educated, sensitized and shown how positive, restorative, and therapeutic treatment of inmates contributes to the staff as well. All members of the "incarcerated family" need for the facility to be "home." Jails and prisons need gender specific treatment programs.

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The information above was gathered by the CENTER FOR THERAPEUTIC JUSTICE from numerous sources and compiled for presentation at the May 11 ­12, 2000 Richmond, Virginia conference, "Perinatal Addiction: More Than Substance Abuse."

Stephanie S. Covington, Ph.D., L.C.S.W., designer of the women's treatment program at the Betty Ford Center, is nationally recognized for using a whole systems approach with the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections. Stephanie's "HELPING WOMEN RECOVER" program integrates the theories of women's psychological development, trauma, and substance abuse treatment. Women have identified four areas that need attention for growth and healing to happen and often are triggers for relapse. The four are: (1) self, (2) relationships, (3) sexuality, (4) spirituality. Her synthesis presents a unique understanding of the treatment needs of women. "At last! A Step-by-Step Guide for Working with Substance Abusing Women in Correctional Settings"

--taken from promotional material of the INSTITUTE FOR RELATIONAL DEVELOPMENT Email: [email protected] Or Mail: 7946 Ivanhoe Ave. #201B LaJolla, California 92037 USA

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