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Diversion Programs Offer Alternative to Prison

15-Jul-2013

When facing criminal conviction, the prospect of spending years in prison can be terrifying. For some people, this is their rock-bottom, the point where they feel they cannot sink any lower, and they desperately want to turn their lives around. While there are people who re-evaluate their lives and make a change for the better while serving time, for many nonviolent offenders, prison simply is not the best solution. This is often particularly true for mothers and pregnant women who realize that their choices have robbed them of their families. These are often women who want to change, who want to be available for their children, and who want to become productive members of their communities. Unfortunately, they struggle with addiction and do not have the resources to break free.

Oklahoma has long struggled as a leader in the number of women incarcerated in state prisons. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the state incarcerates women at a rate of approximately twice that of the national average. In December 2012, the Oklahoma Department of Corrections announced that it was out of beds for female inmates. The state's women's prisons--Mabel Bassett Correctional Center in McLoud, Eddie Warrior Correctional Center in Taft and Hillside Community Corrections Center in Oklahoma City--were at capacity.

According to the Oklahoma Commission on the Status of Women, in 2010, 45 percent of women in Oklahoma prisons were incarcerated for drug crimes, with drug possession being the most common offense. Fraud and larceny were the second and third most common offenses of women in prison. 

In 2010, Governor Brad Henry signed legislation that would help create a prison-diversion program for nonviolent female offenders in an effort to combat the state's dubious distinction as having the highest incarceration rate for women. He said that of the thousands of parole applications he reviewed, "I would estimate as high as 95 percent of them have some drug or alcohol or substance abuse. Even though they may have been incarcerated for, say, a burglary or a robbery or something like that, if you delve into it, the underlying cause is they were doing it as a means to support their addiction."

For these non-violent offenders, Oklahoma County developed a prison-diversion program based on a Tulsa model. In Tulsa, the Women in Recovery program was founded in 2009 to provide substance abuse treatment and life skills to help women stay out of prison and be productive members of society. The Oklahoma County program, ReMerge, began in May 2011.

The United Way website describes ReMerge as a diversion program which provides an alternative to prison for nonviolent female offenders, with priority given to pregnant women, women with children under the age of 5, and women with multiple children. The United Way says that each year, Oklahoma incarcerates 300 women, which leaves 536 children displaced.  It is estimated that up to 70 percent of the next generation of inmates will be the children of this generation's inmates. By counseling and treating these women, rather than locking them up, they have the opportunity to keep families intact and break the cycle drugs and prison.

If you or a loved one has been charged with a nonviolent felony, there may be alternatives to prison through diversion programs and deferred sentencing. Find a criminal defense lawyer who can serve as your advocate to find the best solution for you and your family.



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