Last night, I spent my winter solstice in the Swannanoa Women’s Correctional Facility, sharing the practice of yoga. And while it was different than every other winter solstice celebration of my life so far, it was beautiful and perfect and right where I needed to be.
And because we are all one, because the only way to understand anything is through compassion, I would like to share 10 facts about incarcerated women. I am paraphrasing from an article that was originally authored by Becki Ney, a Principal with the Center for Effective Public Policy (CEPP) and Project Director of the National Resource Center on Justice Involved Women (NRCJIW). If you would like to read the original article please follow this link.
1. Women pose a lower public safety risk than men, typically entering the criminal justice system for nonviolent crimes that are often drug and/or property related. As well, once in the system, incidents of violence and aggression by women are extremely low and women released from incarceration have lower recidivism rates than men.
2. Women entering the criminal justice system are much more likely to have experienced poverty, intimate partner violence, sexual abuse, and/or other forms of victimization often linked to their offending behavior. As well, Women are much more likely to have co-occurring disorders- in particular, substance abuse problems interlinked with trauma and/or mental abuse.
3. Women’s engagement in criminal behavior is often related to their connections with others- relationships are often paramount for women and their exposure to dysfunctional and abusive relationships can elevate their risk for victimization and the perpetration of violence.
4. Women entering jails and prisons overwhelmingly report histories of victimization and trauma and continue to be vulnerable within correctional settings.
5. Corrections policies and practices have been developed by managing men, not women.
6. Jail and prison classification systems can result in unreliable custody designations and over classification of female inmates.
7. Women have different risk factors than men- including depression, psychotic symptoms, housing safety and parental safety- all related to their criminal behavior.
8. Women are more likely to respond favorably when correctional staff adheres to evidence-based, gender-responsive principles. Understanding trauma and its effects on women, using trauma informed strategies when interacting and engaging in cognitive problem solving with female inmates has been shown to enhance facility safety and security for staff and inmates alike.
9. Transition and reentry to the community can be challenging for women. Women are more likely than men to have primary child-rearing responsibilities and are often single parents. Women report greater levels of poverty and less employment history preceding incarceration. Finding safe housing where women can live and support their children is very challenging.
10. The cost of women in criminal justice is high- given what we know: low risk, parental responsibilities and significant needs- and strategies we can employ to improve outcomes- we can understand that we are failing this population when we understand that 60% of women released are re-arrested. The negative impact of involvement with the criminal justice system has- besides the direct cost of incarceration- a generational impact as the children of female offenders are 5 times more likely to become involved in the criminal justice system.
Quite simply, we can do better than this. Another yoga teacher posted a poem by Margaret Atwood as her caption for a winter solstice themed photo. I share it now as it inspired the practice that I shared last night as well as spoke to me about where we are now, not only with the criminal justice system, but with everything. Personally and collectively- is there a difference?
“This is the solstice, the still point
Of the sun, its cusp and midnight,
The year’s threshold
And unlocking, where the past
Let’s go of and becomes the future;
The place of caught breath.” –Margaret Atwood
Light a Path works to create resilience through connection, showing up for people in communities of need. Light a Path has programs in local correctional facilities as well as local schools, utilizing yoga and other somatic practices as a way to health, healing, self-esteem and positive direction. We would love your support. Visit us online at www.lightapath.org