Kentucky: Integrated Programming for Female Offenders

Corrections Forum, September/October 1998 | Go to article overview

Kentucky: Integrated Programming for Female Offenders


Statement of the Problem

Dismas Charities in Owensboro, Kentucky, is a 100-bed private community center and prison for female offenders. Results of informal studies of the client population at Dismas Charities are startling. Residents of the prison come from violent, abusive homes that lack structure, appropriate guidance, and a nurturing environment. The majority of women at the facility have been abused by their parents and their boyfriends or spouses. It is clear that many women learned poor parenting skills from their parents. They lack understanding of the proper use of discipline, the nature of parent-child relationships, the management of problem behaviors among children, and other parenting issues. Without intervention, residents will likely pass on these parenting deficiencies. Many continue to deal with is sues of abuse, and several report engaging in abusive behavior with their own children. Most residents at the facility were convicted of offenses related to alcohol and other drug abuse. Returning these women to their homes without ad dressing their drug and alcohol dependencies makes it difficult for them to change the destructive aspects of their lives. If dependency issues continue to plague them, they will not be able to find or keep jobs or manage their families effectively.

Goals and Objectives

The program's goals are to assess programming needs for female offenders, successfully reintegrate female offenders into society, reduce their recidivism rates, reduce the rate of incarceration among the offenders' children, and empower female offenders to become economically independent, productive citizens and parents. To accomplish these goals, the program uses an integrated approach to treatment that addresses all aspects of their lives.

Program objectives include:

Educating residents about parenting issues in incarceration.

Developing job skills to establish independence.

Providing onsite supervised visitation of children during incarceration.

Providing onsite counseling for problems that prevent residents from reentering society, holding a job, and managing their families.

Offering materials that teach inmates how to be better parents.

Program Components Family-Oriented Programming

The program's 8-week parenting course strives to reunite families. Education in developing parenting skills includes both group education and individual counseling sessions. Parenting skills are key elements in the program: The women make a commitment to being good parents who want to do more for their children. The program teaches participants to take a strong positive role in their family. If individuals are strong parents and provide a structured environment, both parent and child benefit. Enhancing parenting skills lead, to lower recidivism rates and lower probability that children oq participants will enter the criminal justice system. Counseling staff at the Dismas program's Family Resource Center work with residents to develop a support network for them in the areas of substance abuse, education, and work experience. The counselors develop a relationship with the schools their clients' children attend, for example, and a Girl Scouts Behind Bars Program has been started that allows mothers and daughters to meet together at the center. Mothers receive leader ship training, and daughters are active in a troop in their community. Another family program, Camp Dismas, brings children to the center each month to give them and their mothers an opportunity to build stronger relationships.

Alcohol and Substance Abuse Treatment

A full-time counselor uses group and individual counseling sessions to ad dress all areas of substance abuse and codependency. Narcotics Anonymous groups meet each week to discuss narcotics addiction and its consequences. Substance abuse is strictly monitored, and staff administer approximately 850 tests for alcohol and other drugs each month. …

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