Sevently Percenters-An Innovative Domestic Violence Program at the Pima County Jail

Article excerpt

Women inmates at the Pima County Adult Detention Center in Tucson, Ariz., are benefitting from a new domestic violence education program that addresses issues common to at least 70 percent of incarcerated women.

Recent inmate evaluations of this program have included the following observations:

* "For the first 25 years I thought no one has gone through what I have."

* "I was 16 years old when I got into a domestic violence relationship; I was 32 when I got out of the first one."

* "Once they hit you, they always will."

* "It has led me to drugs and incarceration."

* "This class is a smack in the face about reality."

* "I hope this class grows and grows for the future of our children."

* "When I am abused, I come out fighting. I have several assault charges."

Of the approximately 350 female inmates in the custody of Pima County, a few have been arrested on domestic violence charges. Most, however, remain in jail for crimes ranging from DUI, to serious drug and racketeering charges, prostitution, assault, armed robbery and homicide. About 70 percent of these women are pre-trial inmates, with the rest serving various sentences. (1) More than 70 percent of incarcerated women report having been repeatedly abused verbally, physically and/or sexually. (2) More than 70 percent of female victims of nonfatal violence were victimized by someone they knew, and of those nearly 70 percent report being abused by an intimate partner. (3) Also, around 70 percent of women in jail have minor children. (4) Child abuse occurs in up to 70 percent of families in which there is abuse of adults. (5) Domestic violence may be the single major precursor to child abuse and neglect fatalities in the United States. (6)

These estimates, gathered from Bureau of Justice Statistics special reports, research articles on family violence and from inmates themselves, are remarkably consistent. A very large number of women in jails, perhaps even higher than 70 percent, experience domestic violence as a major theme of their lives. In fact, it is not uncommon for abusers to have their women commit crimes for them. Traumatic relationships tend to negatively affect a person's sense of self-esteem and cultivate a sense of powerlessness to affect or break away from a relationship. Indeed, some female inmates may actually choose jail sentences as a passive means of escaping an abusive partner.

Most incarcerated women have had little or no prior access to information about domestic violence, no insight about its effect on them and their children, and have given no previous attention to ways they can address alternatives for their lives. Many have been lifelong abuse victims. Their educational and job skills levels are low. They tend to be unemployed, involved with illegal and addictive substances, and financially and often emotionally dependent on abusers. Typically, they feel trapped in a self-destructive lifestyle, without the resources to make and maintain positive change. They hope for spontaneous improvement in their partner's behavior, but have little insight into any ability they may have to address that behavior or their own.

Programs far Women

Programs in the Pima County Jail have traditionally addressed health, recovery and basic educational issues, as well as employability skills and religious needs. Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous, along with several other substance-abuse recovery programs continue to draw high attendance figures. These, along with several of the health-related programs, offer segments that regularly touch on themes of self-esteem, responsibility, anger, domestic violence, stress and healthy relationships.

Recent additions to programs for women include an Arizona Governor's Office grant funded program titled PHASE (Project for Homemakers in Arizona Seeking Employment). The program offers women a five-day series of employability skills workshops. …