WITTS Overview of the Women In Transition Through Support Program
Captain Cynthia Brooks
Our mission is to assist women in reuniting with a positive and healthy environment that minimizes the circumstances that lead to their repeated incarceration. Our focus is to increase their employment skills, develop positive relationship values and support, elevate their educational level, build self-esteem, control choices through anger management, build strength through drug and alcohol treatment, as well as developing strong family structures.
Our goal is to reintegrate women and inspire them to be positive and productive citizens that will decrease the potential for repeated incarceration.
The growth in the number of offenders incarcerated and under community supervision, as well as the failure rate for offenders released from prison, has placed a tremendous burden on the criminal justice system. Approximately 700,000 offenders are released annually and more than half will return to prison within three years. Many will be rearrested within the first six months after release. In the United States the cost of incarceration has grown from $9 billion to more than $60 billion annually over the last twenty years, a figure that does not include the added cost to the courts, prosecutor and public defender offices, or probation and parole. This ever growing burden on federal and state budgets has resulted in increased interest in the complex challenges of successful offender reentry, encouraging many jurisdictions to reexamine their current policies and practices in the light of escalating costs, limited resources, and particularly, emerging research on methods to reduce recidivism.
Even as correctional agencies are expressing a renewed interest in offender reentry strategies, recent surveys indicate that the public sentiment toward dealing with offenders is changing, creating new opportunities to explore methods of encouraging offender success. As with other areas of government responsibility, the public has expressed a desire for the criminal justice system to be “smarter” and use the knowledge about “what works” and “what doesn’t work” in changing offender behavior to inform public policy. A 2006 national opinion survey indicates that the public supports (by an almost 8:1 margin) rehabilitative services for offenders, as opposed to a punishment only approach to offender management. Providing these services both during incarceration and following release is favored. A survey conducted in 2009 found that a majority of respondents (61%) agreed that criminal justice professionals should base their decision making on research (National Institute of Corrections, 2010).
Research has made clear that punishment-driven approaches alone are not effective in reducing recidivism or preventing future crime. To encourage successful offender reentry and prevent future crime, corrections professionals must address the reasons why offenders become involved in the criminal justice system. Without effective intervention, offenders will leave incarceration facing those same challenges and without the tools necessary to overcome them.
Common obstacles to offenders’ success include:
- Education Barriers-More than one-third of offenders in prison have not earned a high school diploma or GED and 4 out of 5 have not received any postsecondary education.While most prisons offer educational classes (e.g., Adult Basic Education, Adult Secondary Education), only a portion of inmates receive these services. In fact, between 2000 and 2005, the number of prisons offering these services decreased.
- Employment Barriers-Furthermore, the lack of job skills, the deterioration of skills while incarcerated (1/3 of offenders receive vocational training while they are incarcerated), intermittent work histories, and the stigma of being in prison make finding legitimate and well-paying employment in the community difficult.
- Substance Abuse and Addiction-Fifty-three percent (53%) of male state prisoners and 60% of female state prisoners meet the DSM-IV drug dependence or abuse criteria. This is four times the rate of addiction experienced by the general population. Yet only about one in every ten offenders participates in substance abuse programming prior to release.
- Mental Health Concerns-Mental health problems affect the majority of both male (55%) and female (73%) adults in prison. Women offenders often suffer from depression, anxiety disorders (e.g., PTSD), and eating disorders, while substance abuse and antisocial personality disorders are more prevalent among men.
- Homelessness– For offenders who may have been homeless prior to incarceration and struggle to find sustainable, affordable housing after release, fewer than ten percent will have the opportunity to live in a halfway house or other community release center.
- Caring for Children-For the majority of offenders (55%) who have dependent children, reentry brings an increased responsibility for the physical, emotional, and financial wellbeing of others.
- Other Survival Concerns-For offenders who are released from prison without the necessary identification (e.g., birth certificate, state issued identification) and transportation options (e.g., personal vehicle, a residence near public bus routes), obtaining appropriate housing, employment, and services can be quite challenging if not impossible. (Center for Effective Public Policy, 2010).
When the reentry process is successful there are benefits for the community in terms of improved public safety. Correctional and criminal justice costs are reduced in the long run as offenders are directed away from reoffending to more productive work and civic contributions. Successful reentry is important not only to the futures of offenders and their families, but also to the well being and quality of life of families and neighborhoods throughout Ohio.
WITTS is a neighborhood example of a program that attempts to make Ohio a safer place for all. WITTS continues to strive toward the goal of reuniting women with a positive environment that minimizes the circumstances that lead to their repeated incarceration. Our goal is to instill a sense of hope and empowerment for incarcerated women so that they will be better prepared to reenter society and into the lives of their families.