Who’s Hands Are Behind the Bars? (#Prisonworld Guest Blog)
Guest Blog Submission to PrisonWorld
by Stephanie Cornett, Chief Soul Shaker, Founder and President of Beautiful Forces
The hands above belong to someone we typically think of when we think “prisoner”. They belong to a man. More increasingly the hands behind those bars look more like this:
At ever increasing rates, wives, sisters, daughters and mothers are finding themselves behind bars, most often for drug or property offenses, not violent crimes. The “war on drugs” is catching up to women who now are incarcerated at 1.5 times the rate of men. More than 250,000 women are incarcerated and over 1 million are under the supervision of the justice system (jail, prison, probation or parole). So, chances are you know a woman or girl who has been in jail or who currently is behind bars.
If you do know a woman who has been locked up, you know that she often struggles not only with substance abuse, but with mental illness and a history of physical and sexual abuse. She may have had to leave her children behind with relatives to care for them until she can return. Sometimes, she is even pregnant upon entering (1 in 25 in state prisons). The impact this is having on women prisoners, their children and families is crushing. The toll it is taking on our society is immeasurable.
The services, policies and attitudes in our prison system have not caught up to the increasing percentage of women being incarcerated. Programs are needed that allow women to maintain contact with their children and, when the time comes, to re-enter society as healthy, happy people who can go back to their family and their children and make a better life for themselves. In prison, as in the rest of American society, inequalities between male and female still exist. You would think having over 1 million women in the system, would force the system to adjust. You would be wrong.
One would expect for women to at least have access to the same programs that already exist for men, right? You would be wrong again. For example, a parenting program exists in the eastern U.S. that allows parents to videotape messages for their families, including bedtime stories for their children. Great program. I applaud the developers of the program and the prisons that make it available. However, while this is available in 27 men’s prisons, it’s available in only 2 women’s prisons. And guess what? In the women’s prisons they don’t even get to videotape. They only have access to audiotaping the messages.
The gap and the lack in services for women extends into the desperately needed area of substance abuse and mental health programs. Healthcare, especially pre-natal care, education and job training are all but missing. You know where this leaves women who are leaving prison and coming back to their lives? It leaves them desperate and unemployable, often turning right back to the employers who are available to them, drug dealers and pimps. THIS is criminal.
We must do better. We can do better. In our land of opportunity, we must not take all of the chances away from women just because they struggle with substance abuse or mental health issues. These wives, mothers, daughters, and sisters will be living in our communities and raising families alongside us. If they are going to change their lives, it’s going to take you and me and everyone we know shouting from the rooftops to help! I’m up on the roof…..adding my voice to the outcry. I hope you will join me.