Target: Oklahoma State Government
Goal: Commend Oklahoma for prison alternative for nonviolent female criminals
Four women in Oklahoma convicted of criminal charges that would have sentenced them to incarceration were instead recently given a fresh start after going through an intense rehabilitation program sponsored by Oklahoma County. Commend the state government for the program, known as ReMerge, that provides an alternative to prison for nonviolent female criminals.
ReMerge provides group and individual therapy, job training, housing, and transportation to women convicted of nonviolent crimes, and is an important step in resolving the crisis of prison overcrowding amid rising imprisonment rates. The state prison director, Justin Jones says, “You’ve got to look at the next generation.” He projects that about 70 percent of the next generation of inmates will be the children of men and women currently in prison, and points out that stopping the cycle of incarceration will be critical.
Overcrowding is already a huge concern in Oklahoma. The state prisons have been at 100 percent capacity for decades and some 1,900 men and women sentenced to prison are currently being held in county lockups until there is room for them. Oklahoma also incarcerates more women than any other state, with 121 per 100,000, compared to the national average of 65, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. Amy Santee, a senior program officer for the George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa, attributes Oklahoma’s high female incarceration rate to strict mandatory sentences for repeat offenders and the state’s historically weak response to child abuse and drug addiction. She points out that for many of them, “their trauma starts very early in life.”
ReMerge has been constructed with these victims specifically in mind. Most of the women in the program were sexually or physically abused as children, are the victims of domestic abuse, and/or are addicted to drugs or alcohol. Many of them have lost custody of their children or are estranged from their families, and deprived of (or never had) a support system. This program provides the critical resources for true rehabilitation for them. Dashelle Black, one of the four recent graduates, said, “I was completely broken. Today, I have a driver’s license that I did not have for 12 and half years. That’s amazing to me. I have my own place and pay my own bills. I never thought I would make it back.”
Applaud Oklahoma’s efforts to bring these women back to society, to break them out of the cycle that would similarly destroy their children, and to give them a chance for a better life.
Dear Oklahoma State Government,
Our nation faces a monumental task in dealing with rising prison populations. A large part of the problem lies in the inescapable cycle that men and women can find themselves in. Even when they possess the desire to turn their life around, many lack the means or a support system that can enable them to realize that dream. In turn, their children are similarly doomed. Much of the future generation of inmates will be the progeny of those already in the system, fated to a life of repeated incarcerations because they lack the healthy support systems that every child needs.
That’s why we want to thank you for implementing a state program that aims to rehabilitate young mothers and other women convicted of nonviolent crimes rather than imprisoning them. By giving these women both the chance and the means to turn their life around, you are helping to break them free of that cycle and very probably helping them to avert their children from a life in prison.
[Your Name Here]
Photo Credit: Daniel Mayer via Wikimedia Commons