Barbara Baumgartner, Associate Director of the Prison Education Project, has received a Gephardt Institute Civic Engagement Fund: St. Louis Project Grant to host a full-day symposium on women and the criminal justice system.
Race, class, and gender are intersecting issues in our community, and while race and class have been receiving more attention in recent months, the contributing role that gender plays has not received as much scrutiny. The ways that race, class, and gender impact women in the criminal justice system will be the focus of this symposium, which will increase the awareness of these issues.
This symposium will allow the Washington University community, as well as correctional and parole officers and people from local organizations who offer services to previously incarcerated individuals, to become more informed about the ways in which mass incarceration policies impact the St. Louis community, to learn about the gendered aspects of serving time and the challenges faced upon release, and to hear about various local agencies that provide services for formerly incarcerated women and learn about ways in which participants can get involved.
Between 1980 and 2010, the number of women in prison increased at almost 1.5 times the rate of men. In this thirty year period, numbers of incarcerated women rose by 646%; the rate of men’s incarceration rose 419%. In 2015, Missouri ranked as 5thin the number of incarcerated women, which was up from 10th place in 2013.
Despite the growing numbers of women being sent to prison and being released from prison, the vast majority of services, both for incarcerated individuals and those being released, are designed for men. Few community agencies focus on the needs of women. While men and women coming out of prison share many of the same barriers and problems, research has shown that formerly incarcerated women have not only different needs than men, but they have a greater need for services than men.
One of the biggest challenges that women in prison face are related to their children. When men go to prison, the vast majority of the time, the mothers of their children care for them during their incarceration; when women go to prison, it’s usually grandparents or other relatives who take in the children, but children can also end up in the foster care system, and sometimes mothers lose their parental rights while they are incarcerated.
This symposium, “Gender Impacts: Women and the Criminal Justice System,” will be co-sponsored by The Washington University Prison Education Project, Let’s Start, Center for Women in Transition, and Connections to Success.
While the Prison Education Project only teaches male inmates at the moment, as a co-sponsor, PEP is interested in the ways in which incarceration impacts women and their families.
The Center for Women in Transition (CWIT) provides housing, life skills, substance abuse counseling, and other assistance to women who have recently been released from prison.
Let’s Start offers assistance to the families of incarcerated women. They provide monthly bus trips that transport children of incarcerated women to the two women’s prisons in Missouri (100 and 250 miles from St. Louis), allowing children to regularly visit their mothers and maintain valuable friendships. Let’s Start also offers a free weekly support group for women, for those who have been incarcerated and for those who struggle with substance abuse. Let’s Start also offers counseling services for children, legal assistance for women who are trying to regain custody of their children, parenting sessions, and legislative advocacy for prison and sentencing reform.
Connections to Success is an organization that targets people in poverty and provides them with support and tools to become economically independent.