As I do a few home repairs in my free time, I am entrenched at work in research on women in prisons. Specifically, I am reading about women who have substance abuse or serious mental illness and become jailed for whatever offense. The research isn’t great, and God knows the US has the highest rate of incarceration internationally.
A few facts that are really bothering me:
- Half of all women incarcerated received substance use treatment or mental health treatment prior to being jailed. Half. As in: 50% of those women who are behind bars today have either a mental health disease, or a substance abuse issue. I would guess in other countries, these women would be in treatment rather than prison.
- Those who experienced partner violence were four times as likely to engage in sex work and two times as likely to deal drugs.
- Those who had a substance abuse issue were seven times as likely to get DUIs and six times as likely to engage in sex work.
I am attending a training next week about women jailed in our community, and how we can do a better job to offer services (mental health, substance abuse, community outreach) to prevent girls from becoming the next wave of women in prison. The solutions aren’t easy. They are drenched in politics, finances and let’s be honest: prisoners may be the least considered in the social justice arena.
But the problem is certainly clear.
Have I mentioned how lucky I am to have this job? That I get to learn and think and brainstorm with some of the smartest policy folks in Arizona? It is fun, challenging and exhausting. And it provides plenty to think about as I’m painting and replacing light bulbs.