Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Women, Prisons, and Alternatives

The Los Angeles Times features this heartwarming article about a women's alternative sentencing and reentry program that is providing women with drug and mental health treatment, job training, parenting skills, and the tools they need to depart from lives of crime.  It should come as no surprise that drug treatment is more effective -- and cheaper -- than prison, too:

The treatment, currently funded through a grant from the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation and donated services from Prototypes, costs about $18,000 for each woman per year. But compared with keeping them in prison and their children in foster care for years, the state is saving millions of dollars, the program's organizers say.
Women are one of the fastest-growing demographics in America's prison system, and most end up there for nonviolent crimes that involve drugs, poverty, abuse, or all of the above.  Many have children who, as the article suggests, end up in the care of loved ones or the foster care system.

The thing that really warms my heart about the program in the Times article:  how much flexibility it gives to the judge.  The judge gets to look at each woman, assess where she's at, and make a fully-educated decision about what kind of sentencing options will work for her.  That's the kind of sentencing system we need if we're going to see lives changed.