Rehabilitation for female inmates 

Skyrocketing women’s incarceration rates have local officials and criminal justice experts calling for more parenting classes, drug counseling and job training to reduce overcrowded jails, according to an associate professor of criminology at Sonoma State University.

Rehabilitation — particularly when it involves reconnecting to their children, family and positive role models in the community — has a much higher success rate among women than men, professor Barbara Bloom told a packed crowd at the Women’s Criminal Justice Summit at the Oracle Conference Center in Redwood City on Thursday.

That’s exactly the type of help Jessica Artiles, now 30, said she got at Hope House in Redwood City. It wasn’t until she gave birth to her daughter a year ago that she got help for her drug abuse, an affliction she’s had since she was a teenage girl, Artiles said.

"She’s my miracle baby," Artiles said of her child.

Without the drug counseling, and parenting and anger management courses Hope House offered, she might never have got her life together, said Artiles, who has been clean for a year.

She said she hopes one day to use her experience to help other drug addicts who have had run-ins with the law.

Tapping into women’s need for family and community connections could prove a powerful incentive to reduce recidivism, reducing overcrowding and expensive jail costs, officials said.

San Mateo County spends $146 a day to house an inmate, according to the San Mateo County Sheriff’s Office.

The number of women in state and federal incarceration rose 108 percent from 1990 to 2000, compared to 72 percent for men, Bloom said.

Locally, 125 women are now housed at the Women’s Correctional Center, which is designed to hold 84, officials said. Another 25 women are currently housed in a separate wing of the Maguire Correctional Facility.

Experts say building new jails without a focus on rehabilitation would be a mistake.

"We need to engage in a broad array of programs and services that address the underlying causes that led women to jail in the first place," County Manager John Malbie said.

One model the county might look to, as it considers expanding rehabilitation services and building a new medium security facility for both women and men is the county’s $155 million juvenile hall, only recently completed.

The county chose to focus on delivering services rather than adding beds, with school rooms, counseling offices, a courtyard for exercise and on-site courtrooms, plus a 30-bed program for girls.

Perhaps a more immediate solution would be to draw on state money reserved for women’s services, San Mateo County Supervisor Adrienne Tissier said, who also said she wants the county to consider purchasing one of the county’s vacant hotels, to house minimum-security inmates.

ecarpenter@examiner.com

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