Saturday, June 20, 2009

Our Nation's Non-Violent Offenders

"Women are the fastest growing and least violent segment of prison and jail populations. 85% are behind bars for non-violent offenses." (John Irwin, Ph.D., Vincent Schiraldi, and Jason Ziedenberg, America's One Million Nonviolent Prisoners (Washington DC: Justice Policy Institute, March 1999) pgs. 6-7).

THE WOMEN OF BLOCK 12 certainly seem to fit the above criteria. Over the last 7 years I have met several hundred inmates (10 or 12 at a time) who attend our Wednesday evening group. They are housed at the county jail for a variety of reasons: drug and alcohol abuse, prostitution, petty theft, DWI, parole violations etc.

None of the women have ever said to me, "I don't belong here." They understand and accept the consequences of breaking the law, but they continue to do it over and over again because their options are limited.

Studies have shown alternative methods (i.e. mental health/substance abuse treatment programs, housing, job training, education opportunities) cost much less and are far more effective in reducing recidivism that locking offenders up for a few months or years and then returning them to the streets with the same coping skills. These women will be our neighbors whether or not we get involved.

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