By Dana Simas, Public Information Officer
California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation’s Female Offender Programs and Services (FOPS), along with researchers, corrections experts, college professors, and other stakeholders involved in the custody of female inmates, recently held the Gender Responsive Strategies Commission (GRSC) conference to discuss the programming, rehabilitation, and concerns related to female inmates.
Attendees were updated on the status and characteristics of the current female state prison inmate population. Guests were also entertained by the California Institution for Women (CIW) inmate choir and demonstrations by the Prison Puppy Programs.
On the first day, guests were updated on the progress and status of CDCR’s Blueprint for female offenders. A recent Office of the Inspector General report concluded that CDCR is on target to meet its two-year goals for treatment/rehabilitation of female offenders outlined in the Blueprint released in April 2012.
Some of the plans call for adding and expanding rehabilitative programs. These programs include the Prison Industry Authority’s (PIA) Career Technical Education programs in green technology, carpentry at Folsom Women’s Facility, electronics at Central California Women’s Facility, and computer literacy at CIW.
Plans also include creating more effective re-entry hubs that target female inmates that are within 13-48 months of release. The re-entry hubs will focus on transitioning the inmate back into the community with courses such as resume writing, filling out job applications, where/how to look for jobs, and how to coordinate child care.
CDCR is also currently partnering with the Department of Motor Vehicles to ensure that inmates receive identification cards upon their release. Having proper identification is essential to job searches as well as obtaining residence, both of which are important to an inmate’s successful re-entry to society.
Guests were then given a tour of CIW’s textile manufacturing warehouse, cosmetology program, the new honors dormitory and female inmate firefighter training.
In the textile program, inmates were finishing up a massive order of white boxers for male inmates and beginning an order of 160 Nomex fire suits that are used by inmates on the fire line.
At the cosmetology building, inmates can earn certificates in skin care, makeup, manicures, pedicures, hair, sales, and business development. This education gives inmates well-rounded skills to potentially own their own beauty salon.
The program is available to inmates as well as staff to get their hair and nails done, a popular activity for the female inmates.
During the tour, female inmate firefighters were training in a regimented environment and gave guests demonstrations in how they cut fire lines and use of the fire-resistant tents that have a 99 percent survival rating when used in emergencies such as if the wind turns while the inmates are on the front lines.
Guests were then taken on a tour of the new Honors dormitory where well-behaved inmates are allowed privileges like use of a microwave, washing machines, curtained showers, and an ice machine.
On the second day, Dr. Barbara Owen, a long-time advocate and researcher on female inmates nationwide gave guests an analysis of female prison admissions before and after the implementation of Public Safety Realignment.
Since implementation of the historic public safety shift, the female state prison inmate population has changed dramatically. As of Oct. 1, 2011, offenders who are newly convicted of a non-serious, non-violent (as defined by the Penal Code), and non sex-offenses now stay in county jail to serve their sentence. A large majority of female inmates fall into this category.
Female admissions to state prison have been reduced by 56 percent and returns to state prison for parole violations have dropped by 75 percent since the implementation of Realignment. Female inmates serving time in state prison for drug offenses has dropped by 82 percent.
This means that it is a different CDCR for the female inmate mission. The women are staying longer and are a more hardened population. Advocates and researchers agreed that discussions need to continue on how to best treat this population and get them reintegrated back into society upon release.
To help these inmates, and thus improve public safety, CDCR must focus on programs that have shown to work. Programs like Lifescripting, Choice Theory, PIA’s Career Technical Education, and the Prison Puppy Programs.
The Lifescripting and Choice Theory programs have shown tremendous success in reducing recidivism and keeping offenders from the cycle of incarceration. Both programs emphasize the power of choice and have changed the way life is perceived for many inmates.
The Lifescripting program has been at CIW for approximately five years, less than 4 percent of participants who have been released have returned to prison. The program has only been at CCWF for four months and already has a 583-inmate waiting list.
Choice Theory, developed by Dr. William Glasser, has shown to be an invaluable rehabilitative tool for many inmates.
From November 2007 to November 2012, 175 participants in the Choice Theory program paroled and only five have returned to prison. Of those that completed the entire program and who have paroled, none have returned to prison.
The Canine Service Training and Pathways to Hope programs allow inmates to care for and train rescued dogs to one day be adopted out and be service dogs to children with autism and adults with disabilities.
These programs give inmates a useful life skill that they can use upon release, saves canines from the shelter, and gives disabled persons a new companion that can help with everyday tasks.
Recognizing fiscal challenges, Associate Director of FOPS, Jay Virbel, encouraged continued cooperation and collaboration between CDCR, volunteers, researchers, and inmate advocates to help CDCR provide the best rehabilitative opportunities for inmates and improve public safety when these inmates are eventually released back into the community.