OK Grapples with High Female Incarceration Rate

Oklahoma leads the nation in female incarceration – at a rate more than twice the national average. On Wednesday, legislators, activists and academics will explore how to reduce the rate in a livestreamed conference hosted by The Atlantic magazine in collaboration with Reveal, of California’s Center for Investigative Reporting.

The stories behind Oklahoma’s disproportionately high female incarceration rate are the subject of an upcoming investigation by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and a forum in Oklahoma City that will explore the experiences of women in the state’s justice system.

On Wednesday, September 20, The Atlantic will host Defining Justice: The Experience of Women and Children Behind Bars in collaboration with Reveal. Journalists from Reveal, including senior editor Ziva Branstetter, will discuss our upcoming investigation and data analysis examining the roots of the problem.

Defining Justice will confront key questions surrounding women in Oklahoma’s criminal justice system: Why is the women’s incarceration rate in Oklahoma so high? What are the long-term human costs to women and children affected by the justice system? And what solutions would create a criminal justice system more responsive to women?

Oklahoma Gov. Mary Fallin will join the program for a one-on-one discussion on the political path toward criminal justice reform in Oklahoma, moderated by The Atlantic’s contributing editor Alison Stewart.

Stewart and Branstetter will moderate discussions throughout the day, along with Allison Herrera, a reporter and social media editor at Public Radio International; and David Fritze, executive editor of Oklahoma Watch. Herrera and The Frontier, an Oklahoma-based news website, partnered with Branstetter on Reveal’s investigation.

Speakers include policymakers, advocates, justice experts, journalists and women who have been incarcerated in Oklahoma prisons. Among the experts taking part in the discussions are Sheila Harbert, chief community outreach officer for the Girl Scouts of Eastern Oklahoma; and Mimi Tarrasch, executive director of Women in Recovery.

Also scheduled to speak are: Kris Steele, executive director of The Education and Employment Ministry and former speaker of the Oklahoma House of Representatives; and Susan Sharp, presidential professor emerita at the University of Oklahoma and author of “Mean Lives, Mean Laws: Oklahoma’s Women Prisoners.”

“Defining Justice” is the first in a series of three events by The Atlantic examining aspects of the American criminal justice system and how they affect women and children in cities across the country. TheAtlantic.com is running an ongoing digital reporting series, The Presence of Justice, which focuses on efforts across the nation to move beyond the age of mass incarceration.

Reveal will release its investigation into Oklahoma’s female incarceration rate on our website, podcast and radio show with PRX later this month. Sign up for our newsletter to get the story sent straight to your inbox.

Defining Justice will be recorded and streamed live online by The Atlantic. You can follow the discussion on social media using the hashtag #DefiningJustice.

TCR is pleased to republish this article, produced by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a California-based nonprofit news organization. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast. Readers’ comments are welcome.

from https://thecrimereport.org

Older Women Leaving Prison ‘Less Likely to Return to Crime’

Women aged 46 and over show greater willingness to rebuild their lives after leaving prison, according to a National Institute of Justice-supported study. Gender-nurtured anxiety about facing life on the outside alone and penniless is one reason. The study authors say their findings should persuade authorities to devote greater resources and job counseling to such women before their release.

Photo by qthomasbower via Flickr

Photo by qthomasbower via Flickr

The older a woman is upon release from prison, the more likely she is to re-integrate into civilian society and avoid recidivism, according to a study by Erin M. Kerrison , Ronet Bachman and Raymond Paternoster.

The study, supported by the National Institute of Justice, examined the cases of 218 women released from Delaware prisons during the 1990s, and followed up with interviews with more than half of them during 2009-2011.   One recurring outcome the authors came across was that women aged 46 or older were more likely to focus on rehabilitating themselves after release than younger women. In some cases, they were motivated by the pressure of time to rebuild lives that had been spent too long away from children or loved ones.

Such women were more likely to “work harder to maintain those important components of identity” when given a second chance, wrote Kerrison (University of California, Berkeley); Bachman (University of Delaware); and Paternoster (University of Maryland).

Even women who had been substance abusers recognized that “a tremendous amount of work had to be done to get clean, stay clean, and redeem their perceived failure at such a significant gender role, like motherhood.” study said.

“… [The momentum] for change appears to be strongly linked to an understanding that the undesired fate of dying alone in prison or on the street is a more conceivable reality for women who are released at a later age, than it is for women who leave prison when they are younger.”

The authors did not include comparative data for men experiencing the same circumstances as the women they interviewed, but  they point out in several places throughout the study that there has been a great deal of research focusing on male reentry rates and patterns.

At a time when women are emerging as a growing demographic in the nation’s corrections systems, they suggest that a focus on separating women by their ages and maturity may help to improve the design of rehabilitating/reentry programming.

But the authors were careful to draw only cautious conclusions from their work.

“We are not advocating for longer prison sentences for drug-involved women.” the authors said, noting instead that more “proactive attention” should be paid to finding post-prison employment or counseling for women likely to benefit from it.

That would “avoid wasting resources [on] people who are not yet ready to desist (and will not benefit from employment) and avoid creating perverse incentives for those who are still actively involved in crime.”

The full study is available here.

This report was prepared by TCR staff intern Shannon Alomar.

from http://thecrimereport.org