Since 1980 there has been a 700% increase in the numbers of women in prison in the US. Over 80% of women in prison suffered sexual abuse as children, and over 70% were victims of domestic abuse as adults. Female inmates have compounding challenges post-release. They are more likely to be the primary care-takers of children and suffer more difficulties finding and keeping a job than their male counterparts.
Mahlia Lindquist, formerly from Boulder, and a former KGNU news host, now heads up LEAP, an organization in Florida that helps previously incarcerated women become self-sufficient, by providing them with key resources to help the women transition to life post-prison.
Women prisoners face their own set of specific circumstances while they’re incarcerated, including access to basic hygiene products like sanitary towels and tampons. The Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act, proposed by a group of Democrats including Elizabeth Warren, would federal prisons to provide hygiene products for women who are menstruating.
Colorado passed its own legislation for state prisons, the so called tampon amendment, that just passed in the 2017 legislative session.
Lindquist says that female prisoners have to buy their own sanitary products. “They are often bought and sold at very inflated prices on the prison black market. Even toilet paper is in short supply and so they are rationed, the women carry around little baggies of tissue that they guard with their life, because they’re not given enough toilet paper.”
When prisoners (women and men) are released they face another set of challenges and are often released with just $50 and no other resources. “So the vast majority end up going back to prison because they return to the communities where their life of crime started.”
LEAP provides a variety of holistic services and programs including work training, substance abuse treatment, cognitive behavioral work etc. “to give them the tools to be able to emotionally deal with the harsh realities for when they get out but also the practical skills so that they can go to work and be prepared.”
LEAP has been in existence for over 8 years and only 4% of women who go through the program, go back to prison.
LEAP is currently participating in the State Farm Neighborhood Challenge and could win a $25,000 grant if it receives enough votes. Anyone can vote, at no cost, up to 10 votes a day. Voting ends on August 26th.