We created the Women in Prison Project as the first and only program in Oregon to exclusively address the issues related to women intersecting with the criminal justice system. Nearly 1300 women are incarcerated in Oregon as of August 2015. Between 2005 and 2015, the number of women incarcerated in our state increased by 35 percent. The number of men incarcerated grew by 13 percent over the same period.
Our goals are to ensure that the criminal justice system treats women fairly, protects their health and safety, and makes it possible for them to successfully rejoin their communities when they are released. We do this through integrative advocacy: combining litigation, legislative reform, and other policy and communications initiatives.
We provide individual legal assistance to clients of Red Lodge Transition Services housed in Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, Ore. Red Lodge aims to prevent the incarceration of Native Americans and assist those who are incarcerated in working toward a better life for themselves, their children, and their communities. We work with our clients to identify legal issues that might become barriers to success when they are released. We help to resolve these issues or to assist clients on how to plan around legal roadblocks. We track information on trends and problems affecting our clients that may point to a need for changes in practice, policy or law. Where we see change is needed, we will promote reform through public education and by engaging lawyers, courts, academics, policymakers, and legislators as well as those most directly affected by incarceration and its consequences.
We also want to start a wider conversation about how many women we are locking up in Oregon and why. We host the Women In Prison Conference to provide training and discussion opportunities to lawyers, social workers, counselors, and others who work with incarcerated women. In April of 2016, we officially launched HerStory Oregon, which aims to collect and share the personal stories of women who are currently or were formerly incarcerated in Oregon. HerStory Oregon intends to start a conversation about whom we are incarcerating and why. It will enable us to track information on trends in the issues affecting women who are intersecting with our criminal justice system. The data will help identify needed improvements to policy, practice or law. To achieve reform, we will engage with actors in the system as well as those most directly affected by incarceration and its consequences.
Recognizing the lack of an accessible, widely available source for background information on Oregon's women in prison, in September 2016 we released a report called "Women in Prison in Oregon". This report is available for download.
PREVENTING WOMEN'S PRISON EXPANSION
Overcrowding at Oregon's women's prison, Coffee Creek Correctional Facility has prompted Oregon's Department of Corrections to warn that it may need to seek funding to open a unit for women at Oregon State Penitentiary - Minimum in Salem.
This is estimated to likely require $10.5 million in funding through the biennium (through June 2017) to cover the costs of opening up and staffing the unit. We believe this expense can be avoided by adopting six solutions that can reduce the women prisoner population below the maximum occupancy of CCCF. These solutions are achievable and can be acted on quickly to have an immediate impact on bed numbers.
Our solutions are:
Expanding eligibility and use of the Family Sentencing Alternative Pilot Program that allows qualified offenders the chance to serve their sentence in the community and stay with their children
Streamlining the process of granting executive clemency and assist women who may be eligible in preparing and submitting their petitions
Identifying, reviewing and (where appropriate) granting applications for early release as Oregon law allows to severely/terminally ill, permanently incapacitated, or elderly inmates
Where appropriate, avoiding sending women to prison for probation violations where those violations are technical rather than the commission of new crimes
Increasing the length of transitional leave and expand access to and capacity of alternative incarceration programs (drug treatment, cognitive behavioral therapy)
Increasing pro bono assistance to women who are or will be eligible for parole.