Mothers In Prison

“Prison got me sober, but it didn’t get me anywhere.”

By NOV. 25, 2016  New York Times

TULSA, Okla. — The women’s wing of the jail here exhales sadness. The inmates, wearing identical orange uniforms, ache as they undergo withdrawal from drugs, as they eye one another suspiciously, and as they while away the days stripped of freedom, dignity, privacy and, most painful of all, their children.

“She’s disappointed in me,” Janay Manning, 29, a drug offender shackled to a wall for an interview, said of her eldest daughter, a 13-year-old. And then she started crying, and we paused our interview.

Of all America’s various policy missteps in my lifetime, perhaps the most catastrophic was mass incarceration. It has had devastating consequences for families, and it costs the average American household $600 a year.

The United States has recently come to its senses and begun dialing back on the number of male prisoners. But we have continued to increase the number of women behind bars; two-thirds of women in state prisons are there for nonviolent offenses. America now incarcerates eight times as many women as in 1980, and only Thailand seems to imprison women at a higher rate.

And the situation may well worsen under the Trump administration; the president-elect’s nominee for attorney general, Jeff Sessions, has in effect defended mass incarceration.

The global capital for female incarceration may be right here in Oklahoma, which incarcerates 142 out of every 100,000 women, about 10 times the rate of low-ranking states like Rhode Island and Massachusetts. I wouldn’t argue that mass female incarceration is worse than mass male incarceration — they’re both counterproductive — but the imprisonment of women has heartbreaking collateral damage, because women are disproportionately likely to be primary caregivers, and 60 percent of American women in state prisons have children under 18.

“There’s a devastating impact on the children,” said Amy Santee of the George Kaiser Family Foundation, which supports an alternative to imprisonment for women. “They’re put in chaotic homes, they’re more likely to be sexually abused, they’re more likely to be imprisoned themselves.”

Research shows that prison routinely fails at helping women straighten out their lives — although it does mess up their children.

“I felt my life was going to repeat my mom’s, and it did,” said Alisia Hunter, 37, who said her mother was imprisoned for financial offenses while she was a child. Hunter then ended up having a baby at age 16 by one of her father’s buddies, and she soon began doing stints in prison for drug offenses.


Alisia Hunter is a client of Women in Recovery, a Tulsa program that is an alternative to prison for women with drug offenses.CreditAndrea Morales for The New York Times

“Prison got me sober, but it didn’t get me anywhere,” Hunter told me. Each time she went to prison, she would get clean, and then once out she would return to drugs.

She did try to get into a drug rehabilitation program. But the state, while willing to pay to imprison her, was unwilling to pay for drug rehab except for the most serious addicts; she didn’t qualify.

One reason mass incarceration doesn’t get fixed is that society regards felons with a mix of fear and contempt. In fact, the women should evoke sympathy; even more than male prisoners, they have been through the wringer.

A quarter of women in state prisons reported having been sexually abused as children, one 1999 Justice Department study found. A different study found that 43 percent of women in jails that were examined had serious mental health problems, and 82 percent had drug or alcohol problems.

Anessa Rabbit, 31, says she grew up in a family of addicts and was born with drugs in her system. I can’t confirm her life story, but she told how she was molested by her father beginning when she was 7, began smoking methamphetamine daily when she was 11, moved in with a man when she was 13 and dropped out of school in the ninth grade.


Anessa Rabbit, right, being trained at work by Floyd Massey at Webco Industries in Tulsa. Ms. Rabbit also participates in Women in Recovery. CreditAndrea Morales for The New York Times

Like many female felons, Rabbit seems to have gotten in trouble because of a boyfriend who manipulated her into committing crimes.

“He always put me in the position of doing the dirty work,” Rabbit said, speaking of a boyfriend who used to choke and beat her when he wasn’t coercing her to commit crimes. She says they committed robberies and other offenses, sometimes she at his behest; he ended up with a sentence of four years probation and she faced a possible sentence of 26 years in prison.

Prosecutors often understand what’s going on but threaten the women with long sentences (sometimes based on conspiracy laws) to get them to testify against their men. That’s how the criminal justice system works, but when the women refuse to cave, they go to prison for many years — and the guys then drop them.

When men are in prison, they seem to get visits frequently from girlfriends, who also add money into their commissary accounts so they can buy small items and make phone calls. But the prisoners and social workers I spoke to said that when women are imprisoned, they get fewer visitors and their accounts are often empty.

Mass incarceration also has an abysmal record. Recidivism is high, and imprisonment breaks up and impoverishes families. A newly published study from the Russell Sage Foundationfound that incarceration of a family member is associated with a 64 percent decline in household assets, magnifying poverty and the race gap in America. And the 2.6 million American children who have a parent in prison or jail pay an enormous price — which, as Rabbit’s story shows, isn’t always necessary.

Rabbit was diverted from prison to a model program in Tulsa called Women in Recovery. (Hunter also is in the program.) It reduces the numbers of women in prison, saves money and has had remarkable success helping troubled women shake drugs and restart their lives.

It has a two-generation approach that works with both the women and their children. The program offers counseling, intensive support, coaching on budgeting and conflict resolution, and help getting high school equivalency diplomas, housing and jobs.

The upshot is that Rabbit has now been clean of drugs for nine months — the longest since she was a young child — and has a job in a warehouse with some prospects for promotion. She has custody on weekends of her son, 12, and daughter, 11, and is trying to rebuild relationships with them.

Women in Recovery programs last 17 months and cost $19,700 on average; after that, the woman is in a job, and recidivism over the next three years is just 4.9 percent. Without the program, the state might imprison the women for years at a much greater cost — and end up with a much higher recidivism rate.

So if we want to reduce female incarceration, we have a solution here in Tulsa that will also reduce crime and pay for itself.

I know some of you are glaring at this article and thinking: It’s their own fault. If they don’t want to go to prison, they shouldn’t commit crimes!

That scorn derives partly from a misunderstanding of drug abuse, which is a central reason for mass female incarceration in America (and a major reason for mass incarceration of men as well, although to a lesser degree). As Dr. Vivek H. Murthy, the surgeon general, noted in releasing a major report this month: “It’s time to change how we view addiction. Not as a moral failing but as a chronic illness.” In short, we should think of drugs not primarily through the criminal justice lens but as a public health crisis.

If you think all this is just coddling criminals, consider for a moment Michelle Vavrick, 24. I can’t independently verify her story, but her counselors believe it, and it tracks what many other women in her position have experienced.

Vavrick says she was raised in a chaotic and violent home with alcohol and drugs. Beginning at age 7, she says, a pedophile named Sean began picking her up at her house and taking her away to rape her on an almost daily basis. She responded by acting out, self-mutilating and becoming violent.


Michelle Vavrick at Katy’s Pantry, where she works as part of the Women in Recovery program. She hopes to run her own bakery some day. CreditAndrea Morales for The New York Times

“At 10, I became uncontrollable,” Vavrick remembered. “Sean and his friends would shoot me with heroin so they could do what they wanted to me. Six of them.”

Vavrick self-medicated with alcohol and drugs, went through rehab programs that didn’t work and ran away at 18. She lived on a park bench, sold sex, connected with a gang and robbed people. “I was a big ball of anger,” she recalled. “I couldn’t stand being in my own skin.”

Last year she was finally arrested for drug running and faced a sentence of 15 years to life. Fortunately, she was diverted to Women in Recovery, underwent intensive cognitive processing therapy — and transformed. She has now been clean for 10 months and is warm and hopeful. Instead of sitting sullenly in a prison cell, she works in a bakery, loves it, and hopes to run her own bakery some day.

At one point when I was interviewing her about her past, she began crying. Alarmed, I quickly apologized, but she shushed me up. “This is progress,” she said, beaming through her tears. She wants to let herself feel again.

Reporting these kinds of topics is often tough: I see people stuck in cycles of poverty, drugs and incarceration, with their children often headed in the same direction. Even well-meaning help is sometimes rejected, for we humans have an astonishing capacity for self-destructive behavior — just as society does, with policies like mass incarceration. That backdrop makes it exhilarating to see a program like Women in Recovery succeed, and an individual like Michelle Vavrick blossom through it into a new future.

“I know how precious my life is, and I never want to stick a needle in my arm again,” she said. “I want to live.”

130 Top Police Chiefs and Prosecutors Urge End to Mass Incarceration

October 21, 2015
law enforcement leaders

New group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, will meet with President Obama to urge him to take action to reform our criminal justice system

Today 130 police chiefs, sheriffs, prosecutors, and attorneys general from all 50 states join together as a surprising new voice calling for the end to unnecessary incarceration in the U.S. — while maintaining public safety.

The new group, Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration, marks an unprecedented partnership among the nation’s top law enforcement leaders to push reforms to reduce incarceration and strengthen public safety.

At a press conference today in Washington, D.C., police chiefs from six of the largest U.S. cities, including New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Washington, D.C., Houston, and New Orleans, will announce their policy agenda, featured in a Statement of Principles.

President Barack Obama will host members of the group at the White House tomorrow, where group leaders will speak on why they believe reducing imprisonment while protecting public safety is a vital national goal.

Speakers at the press conference today include:

  • Charlie Beck, Chief, Los Angeles Police Department
  • William Bratton, Commissioner, New York City Police Department
  • Benjamin David, District Attorney, New Hanover County & Pender County, North Carolina
  • Cathy Lanier, Chief, Washington D.C. Metropolitan Police Department
  • Garry McCarthy, Superintendent, Chicago Police Department; co-chair, Law Enforcement Leaders
  • Charles McClelland, Chief, Houston Police Department
  • Ronal Serpas, former Superintendent, New Orleans Police Department; co-chair, Law Enforcement Leaders

Additional members of the group include (see a full list of members here):

  • Hassan Aden, Police Director of Research and Programs, International Association of Chiefs of Police
  • Cedric Alexander, former President, National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives
  • Kay Chopard Cohen, Executive Director, National District Attorneys Association
  • Alfred Durham, Chief, Richmond Police Department
  • Mark Earley, former Attorney General, Virginia; former President and CEO, Prison Fellowship
  • Sim Gill, District Attorney, Salt Lake County, Utah
  • Heidi Heitkamp, U.S. Senator and former Attorney General, North Dakota
  • Michael Herring, Commonwealth’s Attorney, Richmond, Virginia
  • Walter Holton, former U.S. Attorney, Middle District of North Carolina
  • James E. Johnson, former Undersecretary, U.S. Department of Treasury
  • B. Todd Jones, former Director, U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives
  • G. Douglas Jones, former U.S. Attorney, Northern District of Alabama
  • Tom Manger, President, Major Cities Chiefs’ Association
  • Kathleen O’Toole, Chief, Seattle Police Department
  • Melba Pearson, President, National Black Prosecutors Association
  • Timothy Purdon, former U.S. Attorney, District of North Dakota
  • Charles Ramsey, Commissioner, Philadelphia Police Department
  • Eric Schneiderman, Attorney General, New York
  • Rich Stanek, Sheriff, Hennepin County, former President; Major County Sheriffs Association
  • Cy Vance, District Attorney, New York County, New York

“As the public servants working every day to keep our citizens safe, we can say from experience that we can bring down both incarceration and crime together,” said Law Enforcement Leaders Co-Chair Garry McCarthy, Superintendent of the Chicago Police Department. “Good crime control policy does not involve arresting and imprisoning masses of people. It involves arresting and imprisoning the right people. Arresting and imprisoning low-level offenders prevents us from focusing resources on violent crime. While some may find it counterintuitive, we know that we can reduce crime and reduce unnecessary arrests and incarceration at the same time.”

Members of the group will work within their departments as well as with policymakers to pursue reforms around four policy priorities:

  • Increasing alternatives to arrest and prosecution, especially mental health and drug treatment. Policies within police departments and prosecutor offices should divert people with mental health and drug addiction issues away from arrest, prosecution, and imprisonment and instead into proper treatment.
  • Reducing unnecessary severity of criminal laws by reclassifying some felonies to misdemeanors or removing criminal sanctions, where appropriate.
  • Reducing or eliminating mandatory minimum laws that require overly harsh, arbitrary sentences for crimes.
  • Strengthening ties between law enforcement and communities by promoting strategies that keep the public safe, improve community relations, and increase community engagement.

“Our decision to come together reflects the deep commitment among law enforcement’s ranks to end unnecessary, widespread incarceration,” said Law Enforcement Leaders Co-Chair Ronal Serpas, former Superintendent of the New Orleans Police Department. “As leaders of the law enforcement community, we are committed to building a smarter, stronger, and fairer criminal justice system. We do not want to see families and communities wrecked by our current system. Forming this new organization will allow us to engage policymakers and support changes to federal and state laws, as well as practices, to end unnecessary incarceration.”

Law Enforcement Leaders to Reduce Crime and Incarceration is launching at a time when crime in the United States is at its lowest levels in half a century, but our country’s incarceration rate is the highest in the world.

The new organization is being welcomed by other criminal justice reform advocates.

“Too many Americans, particularly low-income communities and communities of color, are being torn apart by our overly punitive justice system,” said Cornell Brooks, President and CEO of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). “Seeing law enforcement officials from across the country come together to address problems in the justice system sends a powerful message. We welcome these leaders to our efforts.”

“There is no validation more important to our efforts to reduce incarceration and enhance public safety than the word of the men and women we entrust to protect our communities,” said Mark Holden, Senior Vice President and General Counsel of Koch Industries. “Today, the nation’s most respected law enforcement leaders declare their support for efforts to reduce incarceration. Our current system is a disservice to them. It requires law enforcement to handle issues that aren’t necessarily criminal in nature and creates friction with the communities they serve. They deserve better than this and so do the Americans they protect and serve.”

Law Enforcement Leaders is a project of the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University School of Law. “Today, law enforcement joins the growing bipartisan movement of lawmakers, advocacy groups, scholars, and communities of color calling for an end to mass incarceration. Law Enforcement Leaders is a critical, and long needed, addition to our efforts,” said Inimai Chettiar, Director of the Brennan Center’s Justice Program.


About Law Enforcement Leaders

Law Enforcement Leaders unites more than 130 current and former police chiefs, sheriffs, federal and state prosecutors, and attorneys general from all 50 states to urge for a reduction in both crime and incarceration. We believe that the country can reduce incarceration while keeping down crime, and we support changes to our criminal justice system to achieve that goal.

Read our Statement of Principles here.

See a full list of members here.

For more information on Law Enforcement Leaders, visit

Judge Orders Release of Immigrant Children Detained by U.S.


Residents lined up for lunch at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley in May. The center was built in December 2014 to hold  up to 2,400 undocumented women and children detained while attempting to cross the border with Mexico. Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

Residents lined up for lunch at the South Texas Family Residential Center in Dilley in May. The center was built in December 2014 to hold up to 2,400 undocumented women and children detained while attempting to cross the border with Mexico. Credit Ilana Panich-Linsman for The New York Times

A federal judge in California has ruled that the Obama administration’s
detention of children and their mothers who were caught crossing the border
illegally is a serious violation of a longstanding court settlement, and that the
families should be released as quickly as possible.

In a decision late Friday roundly rejecting the administration’s arguments
for holding the families, Judge Dolly M. Gee of Federal District Court for the
Central District of California found that two detention centers in Texas that
the administration opened last summer fail to meet minimum legal
requirements of the 1997 settlement for facilities housing children.
Judge Gee also found that migrant children had been held in “widespread
deplorable conditions” in Border Patrol stations after they were first caught,
and she said the authorities had “wholly failed” to provide the “safe and
sanitary” conditions required for children even in temporary cells.

The opinion was a significant legal blow to detention polices ordered by
Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in response to an influx of children
and parents, mostly from Central America, across the border in South Texas
last summer. In her 25­page ruling, Judge Gee gave a withering critique of the
administration’s positions, declaring them “unpersuasive” and “dubious” and
saying officials had ignored “unambiguous” terms of the settlement.
The administration has struggled with a series of setbacks in the federal
courts for its immigration policies, including decisions that halted President
Obama’s programs to give protection from deportation and work permits to
millions of undocumented immigrants. Officials did not comment immediately
on the new ruling.

Judge Gee’s decision was based on the 18­year­old settlement in a hardfought
class action lawsuit, known as Flores, that has governed the treatment
of minors apprehended at the border who are unaccompanied — not with a
parent. Judge Gee found that the Flores settlement, which has been carried
out with little dispute from the federal authorities, also applies to children
caught with their parents.

The judge also found that the family detention centers in Texas were a
“material breach” of provisions requiring that minors be placed in facilities
that are not secured like prisons and are licensed to take care of children. The
detention centers are secure facilities run by private prison contractors.
She ruled on a lawsuit that was filed in February by Peter Schey and
Carlos Holguin, lawyers at the Center for Human Rights and Constitutional
Law in Los Angeles. They sued after two months of negotiations between them
and the Justice Department produced no accord on how to change the
detention centers.

“I think this spells the beginning of the end for the Obama
administration’s immigrant family detention policy,” Mr. Schey, the president
of the human rights center, said Friday. “A policy that just targets mothers
with children is not rational and it’s inhumane.”

The detention of the mothers and children has drawn furious criticism
from immigrant advocates and religious and Latino groups, who have called
on the administration to shut the detention centers down.

Since last summer’s surge, Homeland Security officials opened detention
centers in Texas in Dilley and Karnes City, in addition to a small family center
already operating in Berks County, Pa. As of June 30, about 2,600 women and
children were held in the three centers, officials said.

Initially, Homeland Security officials said they were detaining the families
to send a message to others in Central America to deter them from coming to
the United States illegally. In February, a federal court in Washington, D.C.,
ruled that strategy unconstitutional. Officials stopped invoking deterrence as a
factor in deciding whether to release mothers and children as they seek asylum
in the United States.

But many women and children remained stalled behind bleak walls and
fences month after month with no end in sight. Mothers became severely
depressed or anxious, and their distress echoed in their children, who became
worried and sickly.

Under the Flores settlement, officials were required to try first to release a
child to a parent, legal guardian or close relative. Judge Gee concluded that if
the mother was also detained, Homeland Security officials should release her
with the child, as long as she did not present a flight or security risk. She gave
the administration until Aug. 3 to devise a plan to release children and
mothers “without unnecessary delay.”

For children who could not be released, the Flores agreement required
officials to place them in nonsecure facilities run by agencies licensed for child

On June 24, Mr. Johnson announced changes to shorten the length of
stay for most women and children in the centers. The pace of releases picked
up, and more than 150 women and children were freed in one week alone in
early July. Officials argued in recent court filings that Judge Gee was ruling on
practices no longer in place.

Advocates disagreed.

“This decision confirms that the mass detention of refugee children and
their mothers violates U.S. law,” said Elora Mukherjee, a law professor at
Columbia University who with her students has represented women at the
Texas detention centers. “Prolonging their detention even a single day in light
of this decision would be illegal.”

“Cradle to Prison Pipeline” Presentation at National Organization for Women Conference

At the National Organization for Women Conference 2015 in New Orleans, Central Oregon Coast NOW President Nancy Campbell Mead spoke on the CRADLE TO PRISON PIPELINE as part of a
Racial Justice Committee to End Mass Incarceration presentation featuring: MonaLisa Wallace, Nancy Campbell Mead, Deon Haywood, Desiree Jordan and Jocelyn Morris

Mass Incarceration’s Impact on Black and Latino Women and Children

Posted: 02/20/2015 7:29 pm EST Updated: 04/22/2015 5:59 am EDT

Nationwide, the prison industrial complex is a phrase used to describe the rapid expansion of the U.S. prison population, and the intersecting interests of government and private industry that use surveillance techniques, overzealous policing practices, and imprisonment as solutions to budgetary, social and political problems. The phrase also attempts to describe the cyclical nature of incarceration. It seeks to explain how policies, practices, coupled with plaguing societal issues facilitate criminalization and incarceration. Moreover, this phrase has become increasingly familiar within poor communities of color. Much of the public and scholarly discourse and activism around incarceration have focused almost entirely on Black and Latino males. Few studies have explored the devastating impact of incarceration on women. The fact of the matter is — women, particularly Black and Hispanic women are disproportionately affected by incarceration.

According to The Sentencing Project Research and Advocacy for Reform website, more than one million women are currently under the supervision of the criminal justice system in the U.S. More than 200,000 of these women are confined in state and federal prisons or local jails. And the number of women in prison has increased at nearly double the rate of men since 1985. This research also points out the fact that women in state prisons are more likely to be incarcerated for a drug offense (29 percent vs. 19 percent) or property offense (30 percent vs. 20 percent) and less likely than men to be incarcerated for a violent offense (35 percent vs. 53 percent). Furthermore, Black women represent over 30 percent of all females incarcerated under state or federal jurisdiction and Hispanic women represent roughly 17 percent of all incarcerated women in the criminal justice system. According to the Southern Coalition for Social Justice, Black women are more than three times as likely as white women to be incarcerated in prison or jail, and Hispanic women are 69 percent more likely to be institutionalized.

These statistics are grossly startling and have a crippling and demoralizing influence on Black and Hispanic households. Arguably, Black and Hispanic children are more likely to have a parent or caretaker behind bars than their white contemporaries.Current research shows that 1 in every 14 Black children in the U.S. have at least one parent in prison, compared with one in every 125 white children. Black children are almost nine times more likely than white children to have a parent in prison; and Hispanic children are four times more likely to have a parent behind bars. This picture, after examining the hard facts, becomes even more clear that this phase “the prison industrial complex” is inherently and explicitly linked to race, especially when one looks at the fact that more than 8.3 million children, namely over 2/3 of Black and Latino children, have at least one or both parents under some form of community or correctional supervision.

Nevertheless, there are some who would suggest that if only these women would pull themselves up by their own bootstraps, or make better life choices, they would be in a better position to lead their families. If one is to make this claim, one must also consider the fact that how one develops is partly dependent on the type of environment one is planted in. One must also consider the adverse affect of inner city poverty prompted by social and economic isolation and inaccessibility. For instance, the lack of financial resources, the lack of access to quality education, the lack of sufficient health care, the lack of employment opportunities, the lack of familial support, and systemic oppression are all contributing factors in keeping women of color in a perpetual state of deficiency.

A criminal record significantly hinders a woman’s ability to get on her feet. Frequently, an arrest, not even an arrest that leads to a conviction, hinders a woman’s ability to maintain gainful employment. Contrary to popular belief, women are discriminated against just as much as their male counterparts. More importantly, in the digital age in which we live, employers often conduct an internet search on potential employees. Most employers won’t openly admit that they engage in discriminatory practices with respect to the hiring process; but most employers are apprehensive about hiring someone with a traceable arrest history. As a result of this surreptitious practice, women have to battle yet another obstacle, which serves to handicap one’s progress and limit one’s potential from contributing to the global economic marketplace.

As Americans, we know these issues all too well. We know the overwhelming impact incarceration has on our children and our communities. No longer can we afford to sit idle on the sidelines with bated breath and watch our communities deteriorate. Instead, we must place stronger demands on our government and our institutions, including ourselves to work harder in expanding and improving access to basic services for the formally incarcerated. We must help to put them on a road to recovery instead of a road to permanent failure. If there were ever a time in history that we should stand together to transform this system of incarceration, the time is now. We owe it to our children, our families, our communities, and to the next generation and beyond. We know that our families and communities are stronger and better served with familial stability, and when families have greater access to resources and opportunities.

Hard Time Gets Harder

Oregon is cutting an effective program to help mothers in prison stay close to their kids.

MOTHERLY LOVE: Emma Moore-Montgomery went to prison when her son, Felipe Gonzalez, was a toddler. A unique program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility allowed mother and son to spend Saturday mornings together twice a month. Moore-Montgomery, now out of prison, credits the program with helping her maintain a bond with Felipe. - IMAGE: Anna Jaye Goellner

MOTHERLY LOVE: Emma Moore-Montgomery went to prison when her son, Felipe Gonzalez, was a toddler. A unique program at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility allowed mother and son to spend Saturday mornings together twice a month. Moore-Montgomery, now out of prison, credits the program with helping her maintain a bond with Felipe. – IMAGE: Anna Jaye Goellner

Sign the PETITION to save this program!!!

December 10th, 2014 BETH SLOVIC | News Stories

In 2008, Eva Guzman arrived at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, to begin a sentence for robbery. Eleven days later, she gave birth.

“I had my daughter,” says Guzman, now 33. “And then she was gone.”

Guzman was already the mother of two children, 3 and 6. In that way, she was not unique; two-thirds of female prisoners in the United States are mothers, according to the Women’s Prison Association in New York.

But Guzman’s story behind bars has an unusual ending. When Oregon prison officials released her in August 2013, she had developed stronger bonds with her children, thanks to an intensive rehabilitation program at Coffee Creek, called the Family Preservation Project.

The 4-year-old program encourages and helps women to stay in touch with their children, engage in their lives even while in prison, and learn parenting skills many of the women lack.

“If I didn’t have the program, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” says Guzman, who now works as a technician at a residential treatment center in Seaside.

A study published in June by Portland Community College called the Family Preservation Project “a laudable and effective approach” and called on the state to keep the program going.

Now prison officials are cutting the program.

Kim Brockamp, assistant director of the offender management and rehabilitation unit at theOregon Department of Corrections, says the state agency faces a $37 million shortfall in its current budget, and the program is too expensive for the number of prisoners it serves.

Advocates for the program say the decision to cut it is shortsighted; it should be expanded rather than axed.

“Women need to keep their bonds with their kids,” says Jammie Sherriff, a 2011 graduate of the program. “I wish the program could be open to more women.”

At first blush, the program looks pricey: $300,000 a year for 2½ staff positions, supplies and other expenses. It currently serves just 11 women, 17 children and 22 caregivers—often family members looking after the inmates’ children. The program has graduated another 23 women, none of whom have returned to prison.

Compared with the Corrections Department’s total two-year budget, however—$1.4 billion and 4,500 employees—the program is tiny.

Still,  Department of Corrections Director Colette Peters asked her agency to cut spending. The program was one of the most expensive per inmate. “It’s just not good fiduciary responsibility to continue this program,” Brockamp says.

State Rep. Jennifer Williamson (D-Portland) says Corrections is cutting the program without offering any alternatives. She’s meeting with prison officials next week to find a possible solution.

“Right now, it’s this or nothing, and nothing is unacceptable,” Williamson says.

The Family Preservation Project grew out of an Oregon Department of Education program started at Coffee Creek in 2003. Corrections later took it over.

Guzman was arrested at age 27 for a crime she committed at 16. Police said she had served as a lookout during a robbery that resulted in a 37-year-old man’s death.

Some aspects of the program—the workshops, the parenting classes, the group sessions—almost turned her off. Guzman says she was “a really hard case” because she lacked coping mechanisms, and she recalls she nearly quit.

“‘I’m done with this thing,’” she says she told the group during a particularly tough session. “I walked down the hall, and I was crying. I looked back, and I saw they were all smiling. I said, ‘Can I come back in?’”

The program allowed Guzman regular visits with her kids, kept her in contact with their teachers by phone, and helped ease the stress on her children’s caregivers. That’s what drew Guzman to the program—the promise of relationships with her children.

“I just wanted to see my kids,” she says.

Documentary filmmaker Brian Lindstrom, who directed Alien Boy: The Life and Death of James Chasse, has been filming the Family Preservation Project since April for a film tentatively titled Mothering Inside. He says the project helps women understand how they came to be in prison, and how to break the cycles of poverty, addiction and incarceration that could ensnare their children.

“This program is deep and it transforms the lives of not only the women but their families,” Lindstrom says. “I truly believe that if this program were expanded, it would significantly reduce recidivism, and shouldn’t that be the goal?”

Emma Moore-Montgomery, 31, went to prison in 2007 for criminally negligent homicide and driving under the influence, crashing the car she was driving and killing her passenger, the father of her 3-year-old son. She was released three years ago after serving nearly a four-year sentence.

The Family Preservation Project helped Moore-Montgomery maintain a relationship with her son and work through the pain she had caused the mother of the man she killed.

“Coming home would have been hard, because [my son] wouldn’t have had even a partial mother figure,” Moore-Montgomery says. “That program helped us still be mothers as much as we could.”

Sign the Petition to save this program!

Potentially Hundreds of Women Wrongly Sterilized in California Prisons

Potentially hundreds of women wrongly sterilized in California prisons (via Raw Story )

The California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation wrongly sterilized nearly 150 women between 2006 and 2010, The Center for Investigative Reporting (CIR) has learned. CIR reporter Corey G. Johnson obtained a database of contracted medical…

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