August 31, 2009

Female prisoner population falls in Utah

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The number of women going to prison in Utah has been dwindling, and prison officials there are hoping that means they can stave off having to build a larger facility anytime soon. The trend suggests that community programs that help prisoners transition back to the society do make a difference, reports Steve Gehrke of the Salt Lake Tribune.

Utah’s Corrections Department doesn’t have much help from state funding, so it relies on a patchwork of community aid to help women leaving prison build their resumes, and find housing and medical care.

Big Brothers Big Sisters, for example, has a program that helps the children of those incarcerated. For every 180 women in prison, there are about 400 children out there without a mother at home, Michele Beckstrand of the community organization told the Tribune. Other community organizations have provided help for substance-abuse recovery.

Typically, up to 75 percent of released prisoners return to prison, but with the aid of such programs, that recidivism rate falls to about 30 percent, Gehrke writes.

There’s no better cost-benefit argument than that. With the male population in prison continuing to grow, it’s a compelling reminder that a little help goes a long way.

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