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Archive for March, 2016

Be the Solution — Not the Problem!

22 Mar

I read an article by Emma Brown in the Washington Post last week https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/education/wp/2016/03/08/a-principal-met-a-student-she-expelled-and-it-changed-her-approach-to-discipline/.   The article caught my eye because the subject of the article, Nancy Hanks, mentions the ‘School-to-Prison’ pipeline.  The school-to-prison pipeline is a term used to describe the consequence of practices implemented by educational institutions, specifically zero tolerance policies and the use of police in schools.  The result is the increasing patterns of contact students have with the juvenile and adult criminal justice systems.  As media coverage of youth violence and mass incarceration has grown, the term is often a hot topic in discussions surrounding educational disciplinary policies.

As I read the speech by Ms. Hanks, a top administrator for the Madison, Wisconsin school system, I found commonalities with the WMF Re-Entry Conference. Ms. Hanks asks her audience to consider alternative solutions to students’ bad behavior.  She questions whether 4-5 year old pre-school children should be suspended or expelled for disrupting the learning environment.

Ms. Hanks even questions her past decisions as a Principal, one in particular where she expelled a middle school student for bringing his BB gun to school.  By chance, she came face-to-face with the young man years later and fortunately, he had not gotten swept into the pipeline.  She still felt the guilt of being part of the problem rather than part of the solution.  The overcrowding in our prisons is largely due to the ‘war on drugs’ in which we treat addiction as a crime.  We are just beginning to see laws changing to provide rehabilitation treatment for drug addicts instead of prison.  Alternative solutions should be sought for other non-violent crimes.

A strong message in Ms. Hanks speech was something we can all try to apply to our daily lives:  Separate the Person from the Act.  That is exactly what happens during the WMF conference.  The many volunteer organizations and individual volunteers look at the women attending the conference without seeing their crimes.  The women are viewed as individuals who need a little help, some guidance and training.  They will get a second chance; they will need to be able to find a place to live, get and keep a job, have healthy relationships with their families, and manage their money.  Some of them haven’t done any of this in a long timeOneonOneWeb; some of them may have never done it successfully.

And when the women do get out of prison, I hope they will encounter people who can separate them from their prior acts—people who will take a chance on them, give them a break, hire them, show them  kindness and respect.   After all, they have paid their debts to society for their past crimes.  Re-entering their communities should be a fresh start.

You can help by donating to the WMF Conference! !  Go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 

 

 

 

One Day Makes a Difference in Lives of Women

15 Mar

The Women Moving Forward (WMF) Pre-Release Conference is held annually in partnership with the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW).   The conference is a one day event on Saturday, April 23.

The goal of the WMF annual conference is to provide approximately 150 women who are within 6 to 9 months of regroupweblease with resources and information necessary to successfully return to their communities.

The time-served for these women vary.  I think we can safely assume it has been some time since any of them have successfully managed to live on their own, going to work, paying rent, buying groceries,  and all the things that are part of our normal, daily lives.  Now, it is going to be much more of a challenge because they have criminal records and no relevant job history.  Many applications still ask if you have ever been arrested or convicted of a crime.  She must answer honestly, but checking that box usually means she will not be considered if there are other applicants without the check. Ex-felons are not eligible for public housing or unemployment. Typically a city will not hire an ex-felon even for garbage pick-up. Companies who are open to hiring ex-offenders do not want anyone, especially their customers, to know. Ex-felons are not eligible for health insurance subsidies through the Affordable Care Act. The list of obstacles goes on and on.

There are organizations participating in the conference whose mission it is to help the ex-offender navigate her re-entry to society and they offer workshops to give the inmates an idea of what will be required of them. The activities for conference day are designed to meet the specific needs of the soon-to-be-released inmate. Workshops include how to find housing, getting and keeping a job, finding health insurance, parenting, coping with trauma and substance abuse, anger management, dealing with post-release legal issues, avoiding gangs, money management and addressing mental health issues.

One reason for high recidivism rates is probation violations so there is a workshop on successfully navigating parole & probation requirements.  Learning stress management is also an important factor to avoiding bad choices that could derail an ex-offender so yoga and meditation are offered.  The inmate is allowed to choose the workshops she feels will best serve her as she returns to her community.

It is one day. Each inmate will receive a thumb drive with resource internet sites and phone numbers as she is released and leaves the facility.  This one day could make a difference.

The WMF Pre-Release Conference is funded through contributions from companies and individuals.  A steering committee works months in advance to plan the event, taking in consideration MCIW rules and procedures.  The steering committee is made up of members of the National Association of Women Judges and employees of MCIW, including Warden Margaret Chippendale, and various organizations and individuals.  Future blog entries will introduce some of these members. 

Please support this effort by donating!  Go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.