Justice Involved Women: Issues and Responses

Justice Involved Women-Issues and Response, a well-attended briefing, was hosted by Rep. Kay Khan and Rep. Ellen Story, Chairs of the Women’s Caucus Women in Prison Taskforce with guest speakers Erika Kates, Ph.D., Senior Research Scientist at Wellesley Centers for Women and Meghann Perry, a formerly incarcerated women in long-term recovery who is a nationally certified Recovery and Family Coach for Gosnold on Cape Cod.

The numbers are startling. While crime rates have decreased, the number of women in prison has risen dramatically.

Many of these women are being held in the Awaiting Trial Unit (ATU) at MCI-Framingham because of a lack of county facilities.  Overcrowding is a serious issue; the ATU at Framingham is more than 400% over capacity.  Women who are unlikely to receive a custodial sentence are detained on average 100 days, nearly twice as long as men awaiting trial, at an estimated cost of $134 million per year.  Nearly half of all women incarcerated at MCI-Framingham are awaiting trial, denied bail or unable to afford bail.  Between 77% and 88% of women were unable to pay bail of $2000 or less. 36% were unable to pay bail under $500.

There is very little difference between those denied bail and those who cannot afford to pay their bail.

Overall, women who are incarcerated:

80% are for non-violent crimes

75% are mothers

65% have difficulties with substance abuse

80% are suffering from trauma

66% have diagnosed mental health issues including PTSD, Depression, and Bi-Polar Disorder

Almost all are poor

 

The majority of incarcerated women have children and are the primary caregiver.  As a result, many children are not only separated from their mothers but living in unstable or foster care situations. The geographic isolation of MCI-Framingham also makes it very difficult for the children to see their mothers.

 

This contributes to a generational cycle.

 

Meghann Perry became addicted to heroin while in college.  Shortly after she entered treatment, she discovered she was pregnant.  Shortly after she discovered she was pregnant, she was visited by DEA agents because she had sold two bags of heroin to a “friend” while still addicted herself.

Pregnant and facing two years in prison, her bail was revoked when it was discovered that her husband had brought marijuana plants into their apartment.  Incarcerated and awaiting trial, because she was pregnant, she continued to receive methadone treatment unlike other women also in jail awaiting trial.  As her pregnancy advanced, she told of being overwhelmed with fear because pregnant women were routinely shackled during labor and delivery and immediately separated from their newborn. (In May 2014, Massachusetts became the 21st state to prohibit shackling of incarcerated women who are in labor or those in postpartum recuperation)

Fortunately for Meghann, she was in a Maine jail. A nonprofit, Maine Pretrial Service, committed to providing pretrial supervision services and diversion options took her case.  Three weeks before she gave birth to a daughter, Meaghann was released and able to give birth without being shackled and able to stay with her daughter during her recovery.  According to Meghann, the Drug Court was the hardest thing she had ever done and a gift to her and her daughter.

Unfortunately, five years later, Meghann relapsed and lost her daughter, her husband, her home, her job, and her freedom.  After so many chances, no one thought anyone would give her another chance but she asked and the judge allowed her to go to a faith based recovery program.  She is now in long term recovery, is a nationally certified Recovery and Family Coach, and has been reunited with her daughter for the last five years.  

She noted that without that first chance, she and her daughter would not have built a relationship during those first five years that carried her daughter through the years of turmoil. Without those first five years and her second and third chance, she and her daughter would not be together now and helping others.

Written by Caucus Intern Palma McLaughlin