Condo 2014

As I do a few home repairs in my free time, I am entrenched at work in research on women in prisons. Specifically, I am reading about women who have substance abuse or serious mental illness and become jailed for whatever offense. The research isn’t great, and God knows the US has the highest rate of incarceration internationally.

A few facts that are really bothering me:

  • Half of all women incarcerated received substance use treatment or mental health treatment prior to being jailed. Half. As in: 50% of those women who are behind bars today have either a mental health disease, or a substance abuse issue. I would guess in other countries, these women would be in treatment rather than prison.
  • Those who experienced partner violence were four times as likely to engage in sex work and two times as likely to deal drugs.
  • Those who had a substance abuse issue were seven times as likely to get DUIs and six times as likely to engage in sex work.

I am attending a training next week about women jailed in our community, and how we can do a better job to offer services (mental health, substance abuse, community outreach) to prevent girls from becoming the next wave of women in prison. The solutions aren’t easy. They are drenched in politics, finances and let’s be honest: prisoners may be the least considered in the social justice arena.

But the problem is certainly clear.

Condo 2014

Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have this job? That I get to learn and think and brainstorm with some of the smartest policy folks in Arizona? It is fun, challenging and exhausting. And it provides plenty to think about as I’m painting and replacing light bulbs.


5 Replies to “Juxtaposition”

  1. There is a large women’s prison in my hometown and my mom is very active in volunteer work there — through the PATCH program that arranges visits with the children of inmates in a “home”-like trailer inside the prison walls and Circles of Transformation which is more of a group counseling/life skills kind of thing. She always says the stories of those women are so sad, mostly caught up with a bad guy, involved in drugs, cycle of poverty and imprisonment, etc.

  2. I don’t know what it is about the task of house painting but I, too, always find myself mulling over serious issues when I paint rooms. And I can often remember what I was thinking about when I was painting a certain room 🙂

    Your post also makes me wonder about the entertainment value we get out of a show like Orange is the New Black. Sure the show introduces us to a cross-section of women in prison. But I wonder about the glamorization and trivialization of real women with really tough problems.

  3. I am a mental health nurse and spent most of my career working for a state mental health facility. Over my career I have seen the criminalization of mental illness. Our facility was top notch, one couldn’t get better care anywhere. The state closed us in 2006 and in the same year opened a 350 bed wing in our county jail for inmates who are mentally ill. I could go on and on about this…it just makes me sick. I have read that about 70% of the seriously mentally ill are in prisons across the country. I guess that I am glad to be recently retired and not just starting out in my career. The media would have people think that all mental hospitals were bad, when indeed, most provided humane care in a safe environment and had the ability to provide a variety of supports for folks in the community as well.

  4. A friend of mine has a sister who is I think mentally ill. She’s currently ok living with her boyfriend but she’s spent a lot of time living on the streets. There is pretty much no help for someone without an address. My friend has tried taking her in but ended up kicking her out because she was stealing from her to support her drug habit.

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