ITS TIME TO LOWER PRISON RETURN RATES FOR FEMALE OFFENDERS

Contact: Senate Democratic Leader

Sylvia Larsen – District 15

(603) 271 – 3076

STATEHOUSE MEMO

RE: SB 262

It’s Time to Lower Prison Return Rates for Female Offenders

Prison is supposed to offer an opportunity to turn your lifearound, so why does New Hampshire have as many as 50% of its women prisoners, once released, circling right back into prison?

The New Hampshire House has before it an unprecedented opportunity to take action on a bill with the potential to turn around the rate of recidivism for female offenders, and in so doing, to reduce exorbitant costs to taxpayers. While women are being locked up with ever- increasing frequency and rising costs in corrections budgets, we spend precious little time providing services or programs that will enable these women to confront and overcome the root causes that have led them to prison.

Using the successful model of other states, the House will soon vote on Senate Bill 262, which creates an administrator of women offenders and family services within the Department of Corrections, and establishes an interagency coordinating council on women offenders to recommend cost-saving and effective corrections programs. While previous job training within the women’s prison consisted primarily of sewing classes, the new administrator will organize rehabilitative programs to develop life skills that can keep female offenders from coming back. An advisory council made up of government and community organizations, together with the administrator will, for the first time, focus New Hampshire’s correction system on addressing the needs of this unique population. The end result could potentially save the state hundreds of thousands of dollars.

I recently had the opportunity to visit the Women’s Prison in Goffstown. The visit clearly highlighted to me the many needs of those who are incarcerated there. Without programs that are specifically tailored to assist these women, they are likely to return, with taxpayers footing the bill for second, third and subsequent incarcerations, and for the corresponding costs of foster care for the children these inmates leave in the state’s care.

At the Goffstown women’s prison we know that in 2003, the cost per year to incarcerate one woman was $23,938. It also costs an average of $25,000 per year to have one child in the foster care system. Because New Hampshire women prison population has an average of 2.5 children, the costs of putting thesemothers in prison, and their children in foster care can add up to $75,000 per inmate per year.

As a state, we are spending considerable funds to do little more than warehouse the problems that female offenders bring to the system. These problems, such as alcohol and drug abuse or domestic violence issues can, in many cases, be treated successfully. Similar proposals are already working in other states. A program in Maryland's women’s prison decreased recidivism to 3 percent, and that state is modeling its success to expand the program to the men’s system.

New Hampshire ’s women prisoners do not receive the attention or services required to enable them to successfully re-enter society upon their release. More than ever, this growing population deserves our attention and highest priority. Many current correctional programs do not “crossover” from the male population to the female population and all of the facilities have severe inadequacies. By offering the smaller population of incarcerated women a chance to turn their lives around, we can apply future successes to the entire prison population. Investing in this first step solution, NH taxpayers will reap savings, families will be restored and our towns and communities will be healthier and safer.

Please let your voice be heard in support of SB 262. Log onto the New Hampshire State Government Website (www.gencourt.state.nh.us) to locate your State Representative and email or call to support this important legislation.