Cutting the Risk for Women in a Tight Spot

 

By: Carol Lawrence

How much would you invest to keep a mother from going to prison and leaving her children behind?  $25?  $40?  $80?  What if you received something nice in return for your donation?  This opportunity awaits you.  Again this year, the folks at Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice (WCCJ) offer an opportunity for local women to help other women turning their lives around.
On Monday, January 16, 2012, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, over a dozen Buncombe County salons will open their doors to women for haircuts and spa treatments, donating all proceeds  from these appointments to the Women at Risk Program at Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice.    
Cut the Risk offers haircuts, manicures, pedicures, facials, and other spa treatments.  Haircuts will cost $25and spa treatments will be $40 for a half-hour and $70 for a full hour.  This event generally raises $10,000 through the generous support of local salons.
All funds raised will benefit the WCCJ Women at Risk alternative sentencing program for female offenders.  Women enter the program  to avoid prison time by committing to alcohol and drug counseling, group therapy, and intensive case management addressing their  underlying issues that led to criminal behavior.  
This is a program with impressive results.  Here are quotes from recent graduates:
Sarah: “I felt really good when I got my certificates, but I knew that this was not the end.  It was only the beginning.”
Irene: “They’ve turned me around.  They’ve put me on the right track.Without their help I have no idea where I would be.”
One of these women was charged with assault with a deadly weapon for shooting her abusive husband.  The other, an addict, was homeless when arrested for drug dealing.
Like most of the clients in  Women at Risk, both had children  who were deeply affected by their behavior.    
“Cutting the risk  is exactly what we are doing  for participants in our program,” says new Executive Director Brenda Carleton.  “We help women do the tough work as they  address the underlying causes of their behavior and put their lives on a new track.  If they stay with it and graduate, they have a 90% chance of making the changes permanent and avoiding   prison.”
As the longtime Program Director, Carleton knows the program exhaustively,  refining it over many years to focus on aspects  crucial to success: 1) court advocacy, 2)case management, and 3) therapy groups. Today, Women at Risk offers the highest quality of clinical care in a warm welcoming place, the historic Minnie Alexander Cottage on Patton Avenue in downtown Asheville.  Here women find a safe, nurturing environment for counseling and substance abuse treatment, 12-Step Meetings , and sharing experiences over a weekly meal.
Now in her first year as Executive Director, Carleton is learning what it takes to do this work.  “One of my chief concerns this year is funding,” notes Carleton.  “For many years, we received funding through an appropriation from the North Carolina  General Assembly, but that was entirely eliminated   a few months ago.  We are now under consideration for contract funding via the Department of Correction, though State budgets are very restricted this year.  We are hopeful about this funding, because we are extolled a s a model to other programs as an effective, low-cost alternative to incarceration.  We should know more in a month or two.”  In the meantime, income from Cut the Risk will help pay program costs.
Buncombe County Sheriff Van Duncan is a strong proponent of Women at Risk:  “Building a jail is the most expensive per-square-foot construction a county can do,” he says.  “And if we don’t change anything about the individual and their decision-making process, we’ve done nothing more than detain them.  Women at Risk is a direct partner with us.  They have helped us reduce the female jail population.  They hold women accountable for what they’ve done and get them involved in making positive changes in their life.  That’s why we partner with them.” 
State Senator Martin Nesbitt is also a fan: “When we have women who are not criminals, who are not violent or dangerous by any stretch but have made bad decisions that have led to bad behavior – bad checks, prostitution, and drugs – we have to do something.  But we shouldn’t be filling the prisons with people who don’t need to be there.  This program is the problem solver.”
Community benefits are significant: 1) the average cost of $75 per day for a woman to be incarcerated is less than half of that for her participation in Women At Risk, 2) children are six times more likely to end up in prison if they have a mother in prison, and 3) here in the United States, we have a world-record prison population – at great cost to each of us.  In terms of investing citizens’ tax dollars, no investment pays them a higher return than jail alternative investment.

Want to learn more?  Please watch Unlocking Justice which highlights three of the nation’s best alternative sentencing programs, including the Women at Risk Program.  Created by the Sentencing Project, you can watch the video at their website, sentencingproject.org.

Contact information:
Please call 828-774-2484 for a salon appointment to benefit Cut the Risk on Monday, January 16, 2012, (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day). 
To learn more about Western North Carolinians for Criminal Justice, please call 828-252-2485 or visit their website at www.wccj.org.

Sandi Tomlin-Sutker
Written by Sandi Tomlin-Sutker