Do you know what is the fastest growing segment of the U.S. prison population? The Center for American Progress noted in a recent report that the answer is women — and this segment is “increasing at nearly double the rate of men since 1985.” A troubling fact is that while the average woman has suffered two traumatic events, the average female inmate has experienced six to 10, often in early childhood.
When YWCA Director of Client Services Mary Byrd visited the Women in Recovery group at the Walla Walla County Jail last spring, she saw evidence of abuse and sexual assault in women she talked to. She believed these women could benefit from a sexual assault survivor support group. None of them had received any intervention following their trauma, and Mary had access to programming already being used to help YWCA clients. Convinced she could help, Mary took YWCA Executive Director Anne-Marie Zell Schwerin to meet with Walla Walla County Corrections Department Director Norrie Gregoire who was very open to giving the program a try.
“What we see in people who don’t receive intervention are high levels of anxiety, depression,” Mary said. “These aren’t symptoms that bode well for successful integration into society. Appropriate and timely interventions can help survivors improve their health, and for women in prison it can be a powerful tool to help them successfully transition back into their community.”
When she began meeting with the inmates in May, Mary gave the women a pre-test from a specialized Healing Trauma curriculum. The women meet weekly and after 18 sessions, they took a follow-up assessment with encouraging results. Each woman showed a marked improvement in her ability to cope with stressors, and they all reported feeling more confident in their road to recovery.
Lifting up all women – wherever they are and whatever their circumstances – is the right decision for building a stronger, safer community,” said Anne-Marie.