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How Women’s Correctional Facilities in Wisconsin Can Be Improved for Rehabilitation

Women’s correctional facilities exist to rehabilitate and reintegrate inmates into society. While they may be effective at some aspects of treatment, there is a lot that can be improved about their programs. In most facilities, inmates have very few opportunities for education or vocational training.

Inmates also have difficulty accessing mental health care and substance abuse services. The lack of available resources can be especially burdensome for women with children outside the prison system.

Here are some ways women’s correctional facilities can be improved to better serve their inmates and society as a whole.

The Current State of Women’s Correctional Facilities

Wisconsin currently has three correctional facilities for women; the Taycheedah Correctional Institution (TCI), the Milwaukee Women’s Correctional Center (MWCC), and the Robert E. Ellsworth Correctional Center (REECC).

If you believe a loved one is serving time in a Wisconsin correctional facility and want to reach out to them, but you don’t know which facility they’re housed in, you can use an offender locator to search inmate rosters.

The correctional facilities exist to house minimum-security offenders for a period of time. They are also meant to prepare inmates for re-entry into the community. Inmates at WWCS go through a variety of treatment programs aimed at helping them overcome the effects of their incarceration.

WWCS facilities generally offer programs aimed at rehabilitating women and helping them achieve sustainable sobriety. The programs available include traditional rehab programs, such as Alcoholics Anonymous, and nontraditional programs, such as “boot camp” style re-entry programs that focus on promoting better coping skills.

Work release programs are also offered, where inmates are allowed to work outside the correctional facility for a small portion of the day.

Not all of the facilities offer the same programs, and an inmate will receive information on the programs available to them depending on the facility. For example, while Columbia Correctional Institution offers a Career Technical Education program, the Chippewa Valley Correctional Treatment Facility only offers Adult Basic Education (ABE/HSED/GED) courses.

How to Improve Programs

While the Department of Corrections makes efforts to provide a wide variety of rehabilitative programs to female inmates, the availability of programs vary depending on the facility. This means that opportunities for rehabilitation are not evenly distributed across the institutions.

In a 2014 poll, Wisconsin residents were asked to rate how effective they believe the system is at reforming inmates. 31% of respondents said the state was doing a poor job at rehabilitation, while 41% said the system was doing a “fair job”. Only 3.6% said the criminal justice system in Wisconsin was doing an excellent job at rehabilitation.

To improve conditions for female inmates in Wisconsin, there needs to be more uniformity across the system. The Department of Corrections should develop consistent practices regarding the use of different rehabilitation programs, the placement of inmates in each facility, and the monitoring of those who are released into the community.

Correctional facilities are also struggling with staff shortages and the high number of inmates with serious mental illnesses. The COVID-19 pandemic has contributed significantly to staff shortages, and existing staff complain of exhausting work conditions and low pay.

An increase in staffing would be beneficial, but the Department of Corrections would do well to hire staff trained in mental health and rehab programs. Putting more guards on the block won’t contribute to a more effective rehabilitative system – it will simply contribute to the over-policing and expansion of inmate numbers that continues to harm women.

Mental Health Care and Substance Abuse Services

Many of the female offenders in Wisconsin’s correctional facilities are serving time for drug and alcohol-related offenses. Wisconsin also leads the nation in the imprisonment of black people, who are disproportionately affected by drug-related crimes.

In order to address racial disparity in Wisconsin’s correctional facilities, the Department of Corrections should fund programs that address the factors that lead to crimes such as drug use and drug possession. Programs that address addiction and substance abuse in a community-based setting are far more effective than those that treat these issues as a criminal issue.

Education and Vocational Training

As mentioned earlier, not all women’s correctional facilities offer the same rehabilitative opportunities. This creates a situation where inmates who would benefit from vocational training programs are unable to receive them. It is important that women have access to these programs, as well as academic and social skills training.

Parental Training and Daycare Facilities

One alarming statistic is that over half of all female prisoners in the U.S. population are mothers, the majority of which are single mothers. While a spouse on the outside can help to keep children in contact with an incarcerated parent, single mothers are in an extremely difficult position.

The child of a single incarcerated mother is often placed either in the care of an immediate family, or a foster home if no immediate family can be found. The separation of a child from their mother can have a lasting impact on the child’s development, and can even create more offenders if the child falls into juvenile delinquency.

Women’s correctional facilities in Wisconsin should make efforts to provide single mothers with parental training resources and daycare facilities for infants.

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