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State funds for women post-prison awarded to local groups

Jail Fence
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A fence with barbed wire surrounds a prison.

Twenty-one organizations will receive grants of up to $100,000 dollars from the state to assist women when they return home from prison. Some of those groups, based in Northeast Pennsylvania, want to use the money to stop cycles of incarceration.

In December, the Pennsylvania Commission on Crime and Delinquency (PCCD) announced grant awards for their Women’s Reentry Services Initiative Program. Two organizations based in Monroe County and one in Luzerne County were among the winners.

In Monroe County, the Metamorphosis Women’s Empowerment Initiative of Stroudsburg will receive $92,614 while East Stroudsburg-based ECCR Group Inc. will be awarded $100,000. The Employment Opportunity & Training Center of Northeastern Pennsylvania, based in Luzerne County, is also set to receive $100,000.

Charece Sanders, founder and executive director of Metamorphosis, said the money will help her nonprofit’s “Rebirth Project of the Poconos,” which assists women who were previously incarcerated or those who are in long-term recovery. The Monroe County Correctional Facility sometimes refers people to her organization, she said.

Sanders said fighting food insecurity and providing toiletries can go a long way to help people who are looking to get back on their feet. She said women often reoffend when they’re lacking these basic needs.

“We also have our Golden Rose Boutique where they can get career-related clothing, coats, shoes, things like that so they are also prepared to dress the part,” Sanders said.

With the state funds, Sanders said her goal is to provide a “no-judgment zone” for women reentrants and combat stigma associated with being previously incarcerated.

“We want to try to change how people think about those situations, and realize that the person is not their situation. They’re just a person in the situation,” she said.

Eugene Campbell started ECCR Group Inc. as a volunteer group. Over the last five years, he has worked as a mentor with the state’s SCORE program as a small business coach. His organization has now grown to assist former offenders who are looking to integrate back into society.

ECCR Group will assess the women reentrants’ skill sets to help them rejoin the workforce or start a career for the first time, Campbell said, adding that he also wants to support entrepreneurs.

“There’s going to be some hand-holding, there’s going to be some tough love and there’s going to be some leadership training to help them move forward,” Campbell said.

Women and recidivism

When the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections released a report last year on reincarceration trends, also known as recidivism, researchers found that women have been reoffending at higher rates over the last 13 years.

When women return to society after being in state custody, they generally have lower reoffending rates compared to men, according to the report. Experts say a lack of mental health resources could be to blame for the growing rate of female recidivism since 2009.

Kerry Richmond is a criminal justice professor at Lycoming College who researches gender and crime. If an incarcerated woman has experienced trauma or has been victimized herself, she may be more likely to reoffend, Richmond said.

“[Incarceration] cuts people off from their family. It impacts their ability to get employment,” Richmond said. “Oftentimes these are women who needed resources and needed services, and are not necessarily getting them.”

By providing reentrants with a support system, groups like Metamorphosis and ECCR Group hope to reverse that trend.

Incarcerated mothers

More than 70% of women incarcerated in Pennsylvania are mothers, according to an announcement by Gov. Tom Wolf introducing the women’s reentry funding initiative.

Wendy Nicholas is the superintendent of State Correctional Institution Muncy, one of two all-women prisons in Pennsylvania. She said the well-being of children is an added stressor for many incarcerated women.

“There’s a lot of responsibility that they still hold for the family that they leave behind,” Nicholas said, adding that they’re oftentimes the primary caregivers for their families. “And hoping by whatever means necessary they can keep them outside of the foster care system with family and friends.”

A full list of Women’s Reentry PCCD grantees can be found here.

Tom Riese is a multimedia reporter and the local host for NPR's Morning Edition. He comes to NEPA by way of Philadelphia. He is a York County native who studied journalism at Temple University.
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