Helping to keep community whole
The goal of this initiative is to reduce recidivism, and prevent criminal behavior that leads to re-incarceration of female offenders. This mission is accomplished by implementing low cost social intelligence training to both community members, and to women who are re-entering that community after imprisonment. Through SI training, female inmates will have tools to make more intelligent choices when forming and sustaining relationships with family, friends, and co-workers in the community. Community members will learn to reduce prejudices about offenders, and keep their minds open to potential positive changes of those returning from prison. Together, these groups can work as agents of change. Change, in SI terms, means a change in how individuals see their place in the world, how they treat one other, and how they raise their children to be socially mature, trustworthy, and responsible adults.
Re-entry. There is one female state penitentiary in Arizona, Perryville. Each year, one third of the approximately 3,700 inmates are released into the community. Over 50% of these former inmates return to just two geographic areas in South Phoenix: zip codes 85041 and 85042. The rate of recidivism is high, with official estimates hovering around 65%. More needs to be done for both the offender and her community to save dollars and save lives that are lost with re-incarceration.
We propose to implement training programs for female inmates re-entering the community and community groups to better prepare both for understanding and accepting one another (See Figure 1).
Why Focus on Female Offenders?
All those engaged with the criminal justice system deserve our attention. This initiative is a starting point, but an important one. Female offenders have unique, gender specific needs:
- Developmental psychology research has shown that women’s experience is defined through relationships, in contrast to men whose major developmental tasks are defined through achieving autonomy and independence. Many women’s criminal experiences can be best understood in the context of unhealthy relationships, often with significant others who encourage substance abuse or make demands on women to become involved in the drug trade or prostitution. Because of dysfunctional family backgrounds and histories of domestic violence and sexual abuse, many women in correctional institutions have little or no experience with healthy, trusting, pro-social relationships involving either men or women.
- From a socioeconomic point of view, most women who enter the corrections system are economically disadvantaged with little education, few job skills, and sporadic employment histories. Many have relied on public assistance that, in some states, will no longer be available following a felony drug conviction. At the same time, many of these women are single mothers who must find ways to support both themselves and their children. Their capacity to be economically self-sufficient is essential to their success in their community, especially when understood in the context of their family relationships. Women who are not self-sufficient must depend on family or significant others. While some families and significant others can be sources of tremendous support and stability, others can contribute to women’s instability and leave them vulnerable to further involvement in substance abuse and/or other criminal activities.
Women typically return to the same communities from which they left when going to prison. The challenges they faced there will likely still exist for them. Therefore, they need to find support within those same communities in order to face the many different challenges that accompany reentry. Often, members of the community are often misinformed when it comes to understanding the role the community can play in supporting ex-prisoners and keeping their communities safe. Educating the community about the influence they have over both the barriers and the opportunities facing former inmates is critical to gaining the community support needed to serve former inmates upon their release.
In addition, research shows that teaching neuroplasticity concepts, a key component of SI training, leads to feelings of restorative justice, rather than punitive reactions. This stance that “people can change, and if they do the community should respond in kind” will go far in making healthy human connections between community residents and former inmates a reality.
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