After prison, women face different reentry barriers than men do, primarily be- cause women have much greater responsibilities (as caregivers, parents and relationship supporters to family, intimates and their communities and social net- works) than men do.
When women go to prison and jail, the roles they have served become lost to the people who relied on them. Compounding this problem is the reality that women do not receive the same types of support they give others while they are incarcerated and most in need of continuity and help.
Aminah Elster, a current Elder Freeman Policy Fellow at Legal Services for Prisoners with Children (LSPC) and a returning woman almost two years ago, explains, “I can vividly remember visit- ing my ex-husband in prison and the long lines of women who were always there to vis- it men who were incarcerated and show them love and sup- port, but when I was imprisoned for almost two decades, the few visits I received came from women family, friends and outside organizational supporters. The reality is that most currently and formerly incarcerated women do not experience an equal level of commitment, support and consideration as our male counterparts.”
Most current penal polices neither respect nor promote the continuance of family and interpersonal bonds while women are incarcerated. As a result, women experience a lot more shame, blame and loss of prior identities due to the numerous roles they once played in the lives of those around them being disrupted by incarceration.
All of these combined factors create greater hurdles to reintegration and the reestablishment of a woman’s place in the community when she returns home. Most often, women cannot easily resume their previous roles and struggle to receive adequate enough support to create new identities in the community as returning citizens.
A study by the U.S. Department of Health and Hu- man Services on women returning home from prison noted that women need to be supported with relational models in reintegration that are sensitive to their racial, ethnic and cultural back- grounds. They also need programs that promote their self-worth and provide role models and mentors to help them navigate their reintegration and reentry.
Organizations like LSPC, which was founded in 1978 to support the continued relationships of incarcerated parents and children, and the California Coalition for Women Prisoners (CCWP), founded in 1995 to address institutional abuse and systemic conditions women face while incarcerated, are work- ing to develop programs and models for reentry services that reflect the unique needs and challenges of returning women.
According to Policy Manager and Event Coordinator Sabina Crocette, “LSPC developed the idea of celebrating and welcoming women home from jail, prison, detention and other forms of incarceration for the holidays each year as a means of acknowledging their importance and value as returning citizens and members of the community, who need to be respected and embraced throughout their journeys back home.”
“A Woman’s Journey Home: Challenges for Fe- male Offenders and Their Children” (2001). U.S. Department of Health and Hu- man Services. The report can be found at: https://aspe.hhs. gov/basic-report/womans- journey-home-challenges- female-offenders-and-their- children.
Female hygiene products are becoming more avail- able to incarcerated women, thanks to what is called “the menstrual equality movement,” according to corrections.com.
The new policy for federal prisons was adopted in 2017. It requires all federal prisons to provide free Tampons and other hygiene products to female prisoners. A bill in Congress to apply the change to all states failed, the story reported.
“It’s all part of what is called the menstrual equity movement,” said Chris Tricozzi, vice president of sales for Impact Products. “It has been growing significantly in just this past couple of years.”
The number of women in federal prison since the late 1970s grew similarly to the rate of male prisoners but has skyrocketed 834 percent na- tionwide in state and local correction facilities, according to the Prison Policy Initiative,
The new policy was implemented because so many of these women lack the funds to purchase feminine hygiene products, reported corrections.com.
In April 2016, Newsweek magazine ran a cover article as the official “coming-out party for Tampons.” The article discussed why women’s advocates, politicians and others want to put an “end to the period of shaming,” as Newsweek called it, when it comes to feminine hygiene products.
The BOP is experiencing a shortfall of trained staff nationwide. This shortage has prompted the Justice Department’s Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz to call for an increase in trained prison employees because the shortage has restricted the access of female prisoners to necessary care and services.
“The lack of sufficient staff is most noticeable at larger female institutions,”according to a report written by Horowitz.
For example, it is BOP’s policy that female prisoners may only be searched by female correctional officers, but the shortage does not allow this policy to be enforced because female correctional officers cannot be at each post where searches are conducted.
“Staff shortages are more complicated with women prisoners because it’s compounded when you have male correctional officers in positions where women are required to do the strip searches,” said Kara Gotsch, director of Strategic Initiatives at the Sentencing Project.
Horowitz’s report stated that 90 percent of the female population would benefit from trauma treatment, but the insufficiency of staff makes such treatment virtually impossible.
Staff shortages, combined with overcrowding, has resulted in the use of cooks, teachers and civilian employees to perform guard duties, his report notes.
There are an estimated 7,100 open positions at federal prisons across the country. The Federal Bureau of Prisons has 37,237 civil positions and 19,073 correctional officers. However, these numbers could be reduced by a Trump Administration’s 2019 proposal.
“The BOP will determine the appropriate level of staffing that should be allocated to the women and Special Populations Branch, based on an analysis of its broad mission and responsibility,” said Hugh Hurwitz, acting director for the Federal Bureau of Prisons
According to Gotsch, however, the best solution to this problem is sentencing reform for women with low-level offenses.
“There is never enough money in the federal budget to adequately care for prisoners if we have significant overcrowding and maintain this high-level of incarceration,” Gotsch said.
Inmates responding to calls on the 800-VISITNC phone line will answer questions about whitewater rafting, fairs, ski slopes, festivals, Civil War sites and wineries in the state’s 100 counties.
The program was created in 1980, when tourism calls were handled by state employees or an automated service. Through the program, inmates learn telemarketing skills and callers can talk to a live person. “At $1 to $3 per day, it’s the best-paying prison job and is in one of the few air-conditioned and carpeted workplaces,” said
Teresa Smith, the call center’s supervisor for the Department of Commerce.
Potential inmate employees are screened for their education level and people skills. They are then trained in tourism marketing and taught about the state’s history. Although the inmates have ac- cess to live telephone lines, there are restrictions in place. The phones only allow incoming calls, and the computers in the office can only access North Carolina tourism sites and industry databases.
Some calls take about 30 seconds to handle but others can take up to 30 minutes, according to the article. “On a slow day, I might get a dozen calls. Last night, I handled 40 from Outer Banks,” said Kim, an inmate serving 17 years at the prison. “I feel like I’m in an office and not in a cage. It’s a real job, and I’m making a difference by helping people.”
Kim remembered one of her most memorable calls, which came from an older woman who had gotten lost trying to drive to Tennessee. “I just told her, ‘Just stay on the road and tell me what the next sign is that you see,’” she said. “The call took a half hour, but I helped get them where they wanted to go.”
The call center is open every day except for Christmas, including during weather events. In 2017, inmate employees answered over 95,000 phone calls and fulfilled 769,000 requests for maps and brochures, according to the article. That included four days of expanded hours before Hurricane Florence, when they fielded calls from coastal residents and visitors heading inland who needed help with their plans.