Oklahoma jails more women than any other state in the nation, and at $15,000 per inmate it’s no surprise that incarceration has become a top budget item. But, a steadily growing diversion program has been offsetting some of that burden while improving the lives of the women involved, and their families.
Women in Recovery is an outpatient alternative to incarceration program for women who are facing lengthy sentences in Tulsa County for nonviolent drug crimes. In order to more effectively reform these women, the program focuses on a number of different areas to improve their lives: supervision, substance abuse, mental health treatment, education, workforce readiness training, and family reunification services for those who have lost their parental rights.
The program not only wants to help women who are stuck on a bad path, but they want to use workforce readiness and family reunification to break the cycle of incarceration for their children.
Noting that addiction, abuse, and poverty are the leading causes of incarceration among women, the group says, “We help women conquer their drug addiction, recover from trauma and acquire the essential economic, emotional and social tools to build successful and productive lives.”
WIR, which is funded by the George Kaiser Family Foundation, says since their start in 2009 they have helped more than 475 women and over 1,000 children. For its participants, they even offer the opportunity to get their GED and other certificates through a partnership with Tulsa Community College.
“It’s our hope that many of our women will get associate’s degrees or finish their bachelor’s degrees to help them become self-sufficient,” said the group’s program director, Mimi Tarrasch.
The Daily Signal interviewed one participant, Samantha Houston-Brown.
After finding herself addicted and repeatedly in jail on drug-related offenses, Houston-Brown’s attorney struck a deal to allow her to attend WIR to remedy the underlying problem – her addiction to methamphetamine.
Just nine months later Houston-Brown was sober, employed, and had regained visitation of her oldest daughter.
Houston-Brown’s success story is one that can be duplicated if opportunities like the Women in Recovery program are expanded. As of August, Oklahoma state prisons were at 107 percent capacity, those numbers used to lead politicians to believe they were successful in combatting crime. However, it’s becoming increasingly clear that high incarceration rates do not necessarily translate into low crime, especially when many of those filling the prisons are low-level nonviolent offenders.
As diversion programs like Women in Recovery in Oklahoma, and Prison Entrepreneurship Program in Texas, continue to show remarkable results in lowering recidivism and providing better opportunity for reentry of ex-offenders, hopefully we will see continued philanthropic support to keep these public-private programs thriving.