Transition Women in Federal Prison Camps to Community-Based Supervision
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With this petition I would like to shine a light on an incredibly important issue. In a country where we celebrate freedom, more than 200,000 of our moms, sisters, wives, daughters and friends are fighting for theirs. We can help end over-incarceration of women in America.
The following petition was written by my sister, who is currently serving a long sentence in prison for a non-violent crime. I have watched how being incarcerated has affected her and our entire family, and changed the course of her three children's lives forever. I know she is one of thousands of women and their families affected in similar ways. On a personal note, I find it discouraging that my sister was sentenced to 14 years for a financial crime, while my ex-husband spent 74 days in jail for strangling me nearly to death. The First Step Act passed in December 2018 provides a mechanism for U.S. Probation to monitor non-violent low risk offenders through pre-release custody. An Executive Order by Trump could utilize the same type of monitoring for approximately 4,000 female campers and reunite them with their families immediately.
Petition to Transition Women in Federal Prison Camps to Community-Based Supervision
Over 200,000 women are incarcerated in the U.S, more than any country in the world. Nearly 2.7 million children in America have an incarcerated parent and the societal costs of children raised without a mother are difficult to quantify. Providing alternatives to incarceration is a worthy goal that recognizes women in prison have most often been victimized long before engaging in criminal behavior. Federal Prison Camps without walls or fences do more damage than good and serve only to warehouse women and provide slave labor. Alternatives can reduce the generational effects of removal of women from the home including increased criminology, poverty, struggles in school and emotional and psychological problems for their children. Through alternative supervision, treatment, psychological care, and educational opportunities, we can redesign the system to transition from punitive to rehabilitative while reuniting families.
Please join us in signing this Petition
By signature below, I ask President Trump to issue an Executive Order to immediately transition non-violent camp status federal female offenders in the custody of the Federal Bureau of Prisons to community-based supervision to include halfway house, home confinement, ankle monitoring and/or conditions imposed and monitoring by U.S. Probation.
Ending Over-Incarceration of Women in America
Women and mothers are the heart and soul of the home, and by extension, our communities. The unprecedented number of women in prison is an epidemic negatively affecting our society. More women are incarcerated in the U.S. than all of those in China, Russia, and Thailand combined. (See World Imprisonment List, Third Ed.) When Sesame Street begins airing an episode geared towards children with a parent in prison, we have gone too far. At a time when issues of both women's rights and the separation of immigrant families are at the forefront of political debate and media coverage, the over-incarceration of women in our country for non-violent offenses warrants immediate attention.
Most women in the system have suffered some type of abuse; physical, sexual, or emotional. Many engaged in crimes as a result of growing up in a violent or criminally-minded home or community, choosing toxic relationships, harboring an unhealthy need to please or be accepted, and/or succumbing to pressure from a controlling or abusive man. The weaker and more damaged the woman, the more susceptible to criminal activity. Once inside the system, the weakest become the target of further abuse. For decades, women in prison have suffered the abuses of men in power, their voices silenced with threats of retaliation and punishment. With the emergence of the #Me-too movement, the conversation surrounding sexual abuse should extend to conduct that has too often become part of an accepted culture within the criminal justice system. Over-incarceration is a huge human rights issue but women face unique struggles in this environment.
Tactics used to coerce women into accepting plea bargains often include threats of never seeing their children again or the damage a long sentence will inflict upon them. As a result, many plead guilty rather than proceed to trial and often those pleas include admissions to more serious crimes than were actually committed. The threat of a prolonged absence from the family is a tool much more effectively wielded against women than men. Once a sentence is imposed, the punishment of a mother being away from her child is felt much more severely than the same sentence imposed upon a man; the psychological impacts on both mother and child more damaging.
In correctional facilities around the country, women are forced to work for pennies. Their families, and taxpayers though the pervasive use of social services to support children in their absence, foot the bill for incarceration of over $30,000 per year for each inmate in the federal system. Many children end up in foster care or less than desirable situations that further a cycle of disadvantage. Even in the case of family members able to care for children, often the time and expense to facilitate visiting is not feasible after providing for basic needs. A recent study estimated the true cost of incarceration in the U.S. to be nearly $1 trillion when loss of income and contributions of family members and other costs to society are factored in. (See "The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the United States", Institute for Advancing Justice).
Other issues affect women uniquely once in the system. The quality of medical care, coupled with nutritional deficiencies and the stress of incarceration causes the life expectancy of women in prison to be significantly reduced. Demeaning and abusive language and inhumane treatment is too often the norm. Sexual abuse within the system prompted the passage of the Prison Rape Elimination Act ("PREA"). Under PREA, there is no consensual sex in prison, a law that makes sense given the power dynamics in play, but it still falls short of protecting our mothers, sisters, daughters and friends.
For the approximately 4,000 women who are camp status, punishment other than incarceration provides an optimal solution for the offender, their families, and society. Alternatives that treat the root of the problem rather than "warehouse and wait" would be much more effective. Community based drug treatment, job training that increases self-reliance, and group or individual therapy all offer lasting benefits that empower women and thus would serve the goal of rehabilitation. Restrictions on liberty such as home confinement, ankle monitoring, restrictive conditions of community confinement, fines, required community service, and the label and restrictions as a "felon" all serve the goal of punishment. These alternatives would negate the harmful effects of incarceration. As a society, we need to decide whether we are so bent on retribution that we ignore the immense power of redemption and mercy.
Through alternatives to incarceration, the generational effects of the removal of women from the home can be dramatically reduced. Millions of children of incarcerated parents demonstrate increased criminology. They are more likely to live in poverty and suffer the effects that come with it, such as nutritional deficiencies, risks of life in unsafe neighborhoods, and struggles in school. Children with an incarcerated parent are more than 3 times more likely to suffer from anxiety and depression and multiple studies have shown that mass incarceration increased hunger and poverty. (See Bread for the World Institute at www.bread.org Almost across the board they suffer from emotional and psychological problems when deprived of the physical presence of a mother. Pew Research studied the effects of incarceration of a parent on college graduation rates. The average graduation rate of 40% is reduced to 18% when a father is incarcerated. When a mother is incarcerated that rate drops to only 2%. This study illustrates the importance of keeping mothers and children together whenever possible. The recent immigration debate and the separation of families have drawn much attention to the importance of the family unit. This discussion should extend to the hundreds of thousands of American parents in prison for non-violent crimes.
As a watchdog for human rights issues around the globe, our country should be ashamed that we imprison more women than any other nation. The majority of Americans support criminal justice reform and we have reached a tipping point. Like any movement, change happens one day at a time with individuals speaking up and taking a stand. Start today by signing this petition.
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