Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Women filling prisons in NH at faster rate than men due to lack of treatment options for mental illness, substance abuse

From The Boston Globe:

CONCORD, N.H. - Women are being incarcerated in New Hampshire at a faster pace than men due largely to crimes involving drugs and alcohol and because of a lack of rehabilitative and treatment options, according to a study by The New Hampshire Women's Policy Institute.

Poverty, mental illness, unemployment, and domestic violence are underlying factors, the study found.

"Women's role as primary caregivers for children complicates both their incarceration as well as their path to rehabilitation," the study's authors wrote.

The study said the upward incarceration trend will have future costs on taxpayers and their children.

"While New Hampshire's current correctional model is effective in protecting public safety during an offender's incarceration, it is costly and ineffective in terms of long-term successful rehabilitation. New Hampshire would do well to experiment with another model, and the female offender population, being less violent and more directly involved in the care of children, would be a good place to start," the authors recommend.

The study estimates that on any given day about 430 women are behind bars in the state's prison for women and in county jails. Another 1,450 were supervised in their communities last year, and about 960 were released from jail - for a total of 2,850 involved with the system at some point.

Female admissions to county jails increased by 24 percent between 2003 and 2007 compared with a 14 percent increase during the period for men, the study said. Female admissions to state prison increased 64 percent during the period.

Additionally, in six of New Hampshire's largest communities, arrests of women increased 25 percent between 2002 and 2006 compared with 9 percent for men. Alcohol offenses among young women were one of the fastest-growing categories. The communities studied are Concord, Manchester, Keene, Laconia, Plymouth, and Portsmouth.

The study estimates that two-thirds of the female inmates have children and nearly half are single mothers who must turn to relatives or the state foster care system to care for their children during their incarceration. The authors estimated that 1,300 children are affected annually.

Corrections officials told the institute the growing number of pregnant inmates is straining the system. One jail superintendent said he contacted the state to arrange care for an unborn child but was told the state could not intervene because the child was not yet abandoned or neglected. Estimated costs of a pregnant inmate are $20,000 for medical care and transportation.

The study also said the system is taxed by inmates' mental health issues. Two-thirds of the women said they had a previous diagnosis of mental illness.

"The jails are functioning as an integral part of the state's mental health system without sufficient resources to identify and treat mental health problems," the study concluded.