ANNAPOLIS- The typical profile of a woman in Maryland state prison is a 33-year-old African-American from Baltimore serving a five-to-seven-year, drug- related sentence, according to a report released Thursday by the Maryland Commission for Women.
This average female inmate is also a mother of two, due to be released soon to reclaim her children — the reason commission members want immediate creation of family support services and drug treatment facilities to break the cycle of incarceration.
The study is the first of its kind in 10 years and, compared to that last report, the number of women in state prison has increased by 76 percent.
That increase prompted the commission to create 31 recommendations designed to keep women from committing crimes and help those in prison become `productive citizens’ upon leaving.
“Our charge is to report on the status of women,” said Commission Chairwoman Fran Tracy-Mumford as she stood among Lt. Gov. Kathleen Kennedy Townsend, state legislators and other commission members during a news conference.
“This is our team,” said Stuart Simms, the secretary of the Department of Public Safety and Correctional Services. “And we’re going to bring forth a better life for women in prison and their children.”
Two-thirds of the state’s female inmates will complete their sentences in five years or less, making it imperative that programs be set up within the next three years.
“We know what we need to do,” said Delegate Mary Ann Love, D-Anne Arundel, “Now we need the commitment, partnership and funds to do it.”
The commission recommends creating community-based addiction facilities to deal with drug problems before they end in arrest. According to the study, 53 percent of women in state prison are there after a drug or alcohol-related arrest. But more than 10 years ago, court violations were the primary reason for arrests.
Such facilities also are cheaper than incarceration, which costs $18,244 per woman per year, but under $18,000 for drug treatment.
“If we help women break free from their addiction, we can prevent crime, significantly decrease the number of women in prison, and strengthen our families and our neighborhoods,” Townsend said.
The commission is also concerned about the overwhelming number of mothers in prison.
“Eighty percent of the women in prison are mothers and only 5 percent of these women have their children in foster care,” Townsend said.
Since 90 percent of these mothers are likely to regain custody of their children upon completing their sentences, the commission is calling for mandatory parenting classes and family services.
Twice the number of women as men in prison test positive for HIV, the study revealed. The statistic prompted the commission to call for educating women about the disease’s impact on their families.
The commission hasn’t made any specific financial requests yet but Tracy- Mumford said “whenever you talk about recommendations, it does equate to additional funds needed.”
And so far, legislators like Delegate John Leopold, R-Anne Arundel, seem to agree with the recommendations.
“I’m a firm believer in providing these transitional services for men as well as women,” Leopold said. “There needs to be state money provided for [them.]”
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