Montgomery, AL, State House Steps, February 25th, 11:15am — The number of women incarcerated in Alabama has sky-rocketed in the last 30 years at a rate of over 900%, surpassing even the high national rate of over 600%.
On February 25th, Rep. Barbara Boyd (Commission Co-Chair), state legislators, state agency leaders, advocacy organizations, and Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Members will gather at the Alabama State House steps to celebrate the release of the Commission on Girls and Women in the Criminal Justice System’s 2010 Report, One Size Does Not Fit All: A Status Report on Recommendations for Gender Responsiveness in Alabama’s Criminal Justice System and to voice a common call for support of HB519 to establish the Commission on Girls and Women in the Criminal Justice System as a permanent commission. HB 519 is sponsored by Representatives Thomas (J), Warren, Kennedy, Guin, Newton (D), Graham, Beech, Robinson (O), Scott, Payne, Hubbard, McClurkin, Wood, Todd, Canfield, Moore (P), Drake, Irons and White.
The Commission on Girls and Women in the Criminal Justice System, a commission comprised of a broad range of stakeholders to improving the gender responsiveness of the state’s criminal justice system, released 8 recommendations in a report, One Size Does Not Fit All: Research and Recommendations for Gender-Responsiveness in Alabama’s Criminal Justice System in 2008. Since its publication, the Commission has been leading and conducting invaluable inquiries to gauge progress on their recommendations, and fostering new ideas and collaboration improving the lives and success of Alabama’s incarcerated women and girls. Under existing law, the Commission on Girls and Women in the Criminal Justice System was created by joint resolution and will dissolve in 2010.
The Commission’s 2010 Status Report contains a table of progress for 2008-2009, charting all new partnerships and programming efforts to address the specific needs of incarcerated women and girls. In addition, the 2010 Status Report underlines fiscal ramifications resulting from the progress on some recommendations and the very slow progress on others, such as the recommended closing of Julia Tutwiler Prison.
According to research conducted by the Public Affairs Research Council of Alabama, “In March 2007, a report produced for the Alabama Department of Corrections by consultants (Goodwyn, Mills and Cawood, Inc., Rosser International, and The Facility Group) found that “Tutwiler is in dire need of a total system overhaul.” The consortia estimated that the projected construction costs of code upgrades, maintenance, and capital improvements required at Julia Tutwiler Prison for Women would be approximately $37.4 million. Developing alternatives to incarceration in secure facilities for those offenders who pose little or no threat to public safety will require a comparatively modest investment in programming and careful planning.”
In August 2009, the Commission conducted in-depth tours of Alabama’s women’s prisons, holding a rare and insightful Q&A session with 10 women currently incarcerated at Tutwiler Prison. The focus of the session was to gain an insider’s view into prison life from the women’s perspectives, as well as to hear what systemic changes they suggest for improving conditions for women both in and out of prison (i.e. from arrest to reentry). The session gave Commission members deeper insight into the tangled bureaucracy of Alabama’s criminal justice system, ranging from sentencing to medical services, parole, and reentry services. Additionally, Commission members heard what programs have addressed the women’s needs and what areas still need to be improved.
Following the August tours, Commission Co-Chair, Representative Barbara Boyd stated, “We have made recommendations, but it is up to the DOC to implement them. The Department of Corrections is beginning to understand the recommendations that we’ve put forth. Today we made a big push toward improving conditions, and closing Tutwiler is our main recommendation. Some improvement at the Montgomery Women’s Facility has been made, with a new air-conditioned building to house supportive programs. However, I am alarmed at the money spent on Tutwiler Prison’s new mental health unit [an estimated 2.5 million] and the additional money that will have to be put into improving the rest of the dilapidated facility if that approach continues.”
Studies and personal stories of female offenders in Alabama and across the U.S. reveal that the majority of women and girls behind bars have been victims of abuse, either as a child, as an adult, or both. Many crimes are committed to escape abuse and are often committed for survival (e.g. bad checks to take care of family members, including children). By breaking down the numbers of Alabama’s imprisoned women by their offense, and even further by their needs (e.g. substance abuse treatment, PTSD treatment, mental health needs, etc.), one sees that opportunities for improved rehabilitation and alternatives to incarceration are indeed possible and wildly apparent.
Present on Thursday, February 25th will be Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority (AKA) members, whose enduring focus has been the betterment of women and girls and strong families. The goals of AKA could not be more intrinsically tied to the work of the Commission. Seventy percent of Alabama’s women in prison are non-violent offenders, with half of those incarcerated on drug charges. Increasing incarceration of women and girls destroys families and smart reforms and policies must be enacted quickly to preserve families and strengthen their success.
Improved, gender-responsive facilities, programming, and services, as well as careful planning, and system-wide collaboration, are the focus of the Commission and are evident in both its 2008 and 2010 Reports. The establishment of the Commission in past years and the prospect of its permanent future are critical to the betterment of women and girls in the criminal justice system and to the development of a gender-responsive system.