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Mom’s Successful Re-Entry Critical to Child’s Success

26 Sep

The number of women in our prisons is increasing at nearly double the rate for men.  Many of these women have significant histories of physical, sexual, and substance abuse.   The imprisonment of women has resulted in an increasing number of children who suffer from their mother’s incarceration and the loss of family ties.  This is the underlying force that led to the Honorable Angela Eaves, Harford County Circuit Court, 3rd Judicial Circuit, becoming involved with the Women Moving Forward Re-Entry Conference.  Judge Eaves co-chairs the steering committee for this year’s event.

“My interest in co-chairing the Women Moving Forward Conference as a member of the National Association of Women Judges”, Judge Eaves says, “stems from a long-standing interest about the enormous impact on families and communities due to the loss of women because of incarceration.  When women are in prison there are extensive social, emotional and financial costs.  And as a judge, it’s hard to ignore this when I hear cases—whether those cases involve criminal law or family law matters—the loss of these women can be devastating.  “Dispensing justice” means that I can’t ignore it.  So, my involvement with the conference is a way of furthering my understanding and enhancing my compassion, not only for the women attending the conference, but also their families and communities.”

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, in 2007 approximately 1.7 million children in this country under the age of 18 had a parent serving a sentence inside a state or federal prison.  52% of state inmates and 63% of federal inmates are parents to at least one child under 18 years old. Since 1991 parents of minor children held in state or federal facilities has increased 79%.

Children of incarcerated mothers (and fathers) experience feelings of social stigma, grief from the loss of a parent, isolation, detachment and aggressive behaviors. Studies show a potential for depression, lower grades in school, separation anxiety, impaired emotional development, stress reactions, and delinquent juvenile behaviors such as drug use, violence, and teen pregnancy. Therefore directing resources towards helping women, especially mothers, to avoid returning to prison seems like the right thing to do.

It is almost always difficult to adapt to being imprisoned, and inmates naturally develop habits of thinking and acting that allow them to function well in the prison environment which entails extremely atypical patterns and norms of living and interacting with others.   Inmates gradually become more accustomed to the restrictions that prison life imposes, and become reliant on the structure and decisions made for them.  When that structure is removed, it can be very hard to organize themselves and make good decisions.

Re-entry programs aim to reduce recidivism and successfully reintegrate an offender back into her family and community. Ideally reentry efforts begin in prison and transition into the community once a prisoner is released. However, with prison overcrowding and budgetary constraints, it becomes more and more difficult to provide enough quality programs.  The Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW) is proud of the programs they offer and the programs do seem more substantial than many of the state and federal facilities.  The Women Moving Forward Re-Entry Conference takes another step in ensuring more women are able to return to their families and communities in a meaningful way.

The workshops offered during the WMF Conference not only address the obvious necessities like finding a place to live, getting a job, and money management but they provide important information on how to stay focused  and in-control, parenting,  how to avoid gangs,  getting support for addictions, and healing from trauma.

The preservation and strengthening of families has a longstanding history in the United States ideology.  The Women Moving Forward initiative may be addressing an unseen, broken link in preserving our families.


 

The Women Moving Forward Conference, a collaborative Reentry Program for Women at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women, conference was initiated by the National Association of Women Judges(NAWJ) in 2008 and has been held annually since.  It is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.

 


 

Judge Angela M. Eaves was born in the Republic of Panama and moved to the United States in the early 1960’s.  The second of four children in a military family, she was educated in parochial, public, and Department of Defense schools throughout the United States and Germany.  She graduated in 1986 from the University of Texas School of Law and the Lyndon B. Johnson School of Public Affairs in Austin, Texas where she obtained a law degree and a master’s degree.  Judge Eaves then began the practice of law.

In 2000, Judge Eaves was appointed to the bench serving on the District Court of Maryland until December 2007, and since 2008 on the Circuit Court for Harford County, Maryland.  She is the first African-American and second woman appointed to a judgeship in Harford County, and the first to serve in either capacity on the circuit court.

She currently serves on the boards of the Bar Foundation of Harford County, Inc., the Harford County Community Mediation Commission, and the Domestic Violence Protection Committee, and has served in the past on the boards of the United Way of Central Maryland Partnership, Court Appointed Special Advocates, the Upper Chesapeake Hospital System, the Boys and Girls Clubs of Harford County, and the Arc of Harford County and the State of Maryland.

Judge Eaves also has been honored for her professional and volunteer activities by being selected as a 2011 Leadership in Law honoree, one of Maryland’s Top 100 Women for 2009 and 2011, a Harford Leadership Academy Top 20 honoree in 2010, an Athena Award honoree for 2009, and an Associated Black Charities Living Legal Legend for 2007.

 

Why Should We Care About Re-Entry?

25 Sep

Unless you have been in prison, have a loved one in prison or are connected to the criminal justice system, you may never have really thought about the prison population. The United States is the world leader in incarceration with 2.2 million people currently in prisons or jails.  In fact, while the U.S. has only 5% of the world population, we have 25% of the world’s prisoners.  One in every 108 adults in America was in prison or jail in 2012

It makes you wonder who is in prison.  At the federal level, prisoners incarcerated on drug charges comprise over half of the prison population.  Many of these prisoners are charged with non-violent offenses and have no prior criminal records for a violent offense.  93% of people in prison are male, 7% are female.  The number of women in prison, 1/3 incarcerated for drug offenses, is increasing at nearly double the rate for men.

Nearly half of people incarcerated in state prisons in 2011 were convicted of non-violent drug, property, or public order crimes. In Maryland, there were a total of 21,335 people (943 women) imprisoned in state and federal prisons at the end of 2013. The male population decreased by 1% while the female population increased over 5.5% from 2012 to 2013.

According to Warden Margaret Chippendale of The Women’s Correctional Institution for Maryland (MCIW), the facility in Jessup houses more than 800 women serving sentences from 1 year to multiple life sentences.   The average age of the women is about 38 and they are serving time for a variety of crimes from non-violent drug offenses to assault to murder.  The average length of sentence is 41.5 months.

The inmates at the MCIW may earn up to 1/3 off their sentences by maintaining a clean record of behavior and taking classes and/or working.  WCIM provides a number of ongoing classes to inmates such as Substance Abuse, Domestic Violence, Emotional Awareness, Thinking for a Change, Parenting Skills and Goucher College courses.

While the classes offered at the prison are essential to an inmate’s rehabilitation, the Women Moving Forward (WMF) Re-entry Conference provides valuable information at a time when 150 women experience nervous anticipation of their release and the challenges that go along with it.  These women will be released within 9 months of the conference and they are hungry for information and resources for managing their lives on the outside.   Mock job interviews, resume writing, a job fair and housing information are among the activities provided during the MWF conference.

When asked why she supports the Women Moving Forward initiative, Warden Chippendale stated “Almost every inmate incarcerated in MCIW will eventually return to society.  MCIW strives to prepare our women for successful re-entry through education, work and behavioral modification.  Women Moving Forward shares that same vision and provides much needed information and resources for the transition from prison to community.”

The WMF Re-entry Conference is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.


 

Margaret M. Chippendale began employment with the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services on September 9, 1970 as a stenographer with the Division of Parole and Probation.  She was assigned to Parole and Probation Headquarters.  In 1990 Ms. Chippendale received her Bachelor of Science degree in Sociology from Towson University.  Upon graduation she accepted a position with the Inmate Grievance Commission as Associate Director.  In 1992 she transferred to the Division of Correction.  Ms. Chippendale was transferred to the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women (MCIW) in October 2013 and was promoted to Warden at MCIW on April 30, 2014.

 

“Judging” Re-Entry

09 Sep

Try to imagine this:  You have made some very bad decisions and now find yourself in the U.S. criminal justice system.  You are sitting in front of a judge awaiting your sentence.  Now imagine you have been in prison 2, 4, 6 years or even more.  The home you left behind may not be available; you certainly have no job waiting for you, and your relationship with your family has most definitely changed.  Your release date is coming up.  How do you return to society, take care of your basic needs and re-establish a healthy life and stay out of trouble?  When an inmate is released and returns home (if she has one to return to), she often goes back to the same friends and family who have, perhaps, been part of the problem that led to criminal activity.  And now that she has a record, it is harder to find a good job or afford vocational (or other) education.  It is even difficult to find a place to live.

Re-entry, as it is called, is not easy.  Perhaps that’s why, according to a Bureau of Justice study in 2005, more than two-thirds of released prisoners were rearrested and approximately 50% actually returned to prison within a three-year period.    When a person relapses into criminal behavior, often after the person served time in jail or prison for a previous crime, it is referred to as recidivism. Unfortunately rates have held pretty steady since that 2005 study.

It seems difficult enough to dole out sentences to first-time offenders.  I can only imagine the frustration and sadness judges may feel to see the same person come back to the courtroom time and again. So let’s return to our imagined scenario and picture the same judge who sentenced you is now giving her personal time and resources to create a program to prepare you for a successful re-entry.  That is actually what is happening at the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW) in Jessup, Maryland.

In 2008 The National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) initiated a partnership with the MCIW and an annual pre-release conference called Women Moving Forward (WMF).  The conference held over a weekend in the fall, provides 150 women who are within 9 months of their release date with workshops and resources to aid in their re-entry. Advocacy groups and other organizations recognizing the need for reducing recidivism collaborate to provide 16 workshops address a wide range of topics crucial to a successful life outside prison.

Past WMF participants praise the conference saying they enjoyed it and found it very useful.  Even with the tools, and perhaps even more importantly, the support felt by the participants, it is very challenging for a former inmate to return to a normal and productive life.

This program is about more than just compassion for individuals, it is for the good of our communities. Crime is a problem in every community and 95% of prisoners will be released back into the community at some point.

The WMF Re-entry Conference is funded through contributions from companies and individuals. To support this effort, go to http://wmfmd.org/donations.html.