September 16, 2009

After Prison, Calif. Women Find No Care

By Bernice Yeung | Crowdfund this with Spot.Us
Part of the Prisons & Public Health news blog

Women parolees in San Francisco and Alameda counties face long waiting lists for access to health and welfare services, many of which are unreachable by the phone numbers in official resource guides, according to a recent survey by prisoner advocates.

A lack of adequate social services has already challenged California counties dealing with an increased number of parolees — and the problem is expected to only get worse, with a court order requiring the state to ease overcrowded prison populations by 40,000 people over the next two years.

A look at the services available to women parolees reveals a difficult situation that is only getting worse.

Unreachable by phone

This August, All of Us or None, a national advocacy organization of ex-prisoners, teamed with the California Coalition for Women Prisoners to survey the East Bay and San Francisco housing programs for women listed in the parolee resource guide given to inmates upon release.

Published by the City of Oakland’s Private Industries Council, the guide — one of the few of its kind — listed 17 East Bay housing options listed, 10 of which weren’t reachable by phone; in San Francisco, four of the 11 housing options were unreachable.

Of the housing services that All of Us or None was able to contact, most of them had waiting lists; there were no beds available in the East Bay and only five beds in San Francisco.

Of those five, two beds required a one- to two-week eligibility process, two were for single women without children, and one required a referral from a social service agency.

Linda Evans, an organizer with All of Us or None, said that the situation is “an ongoing crisis … the services that people need aren’t there now for the people who are normally coming home.”

Although the Alameda County Reentry Network — a coalition of public-welfare agencies, elected officials and nonprofits focused on parolees — will be working to coordinate and improve services for women parolees, experts say this is the exception, not the rule.

“There are not nearly enough services — and what services do exist are not coordinate optimally,” said Darryl Stewart, a constituent liaison and organizer for Alameda County Supervisor Nate Miley, and a member of the Alameda County Reentry Network.

Budget Cuts Deepening

State budget cuts have also drastically affected “any program that deals with the safety net for low-income individuals,” says Stewart. “Cuts to social services, food stamps, general assistance and health care — this is the safety net that people are talking about, and that safety net has been shredded.”

Factor in the possible release of state prisoners, Stewart says, and the result is “a tsunami coming at us, not just with the potential of early release, but because about 7,000 people are paroled to Alameda County each year.”

In Hayward, Calif., the 14-year-old Women on the Way Recovery Center provides addiction treatment services primarily to formerly incarcerated women.

Currently, the organization has 36 women on the waiting list for its 10-bed residential treatment program, while an additional 56 women are waiting for space at the center’s eight-bed transitional housing.

Once they become clients of the program, these women face additional challenges to accessing services, said Barbara Quintero, the center’s director of operations.

“The barriers to reentry are medical, dental, mental health and housing,” Quintero said. “There are barriers to these women getting health care consistently … it’s not that we don’t have a system, it’s just that the system is broken down, especially with the budget cuts.”

When the nearby Central Health Clinic in Fairmont Hospital closed due to budget cuts several years ago, Women on the Way clients were lucky to receive most of their health care, dental work and mental-health prescriptions through an Alameda County program called Health Care for the Homeless.

Quintero, whose clients include women with stomach cancer and diabetes, said that without Health Care for the Homeless’s last-minute suport, “these women would get no care.”

One bright spot on the horizon is the recent opening of ReGynesis Health Services, a health clinic for female parolees in Oakland, which I’ll profile in a future post.

3 thoughts on “After Prison, Calif. Women Find No Care

  1. That former female prisoners do not have adequate access to the proper health and social services required is appalling. Unfortunately, this only mirrors the situation facing many women still inside prison as there remain much higher levels of mental health problems, self harm, and suicide among female prisoners than their male counterparts. We at the Howard League for Penal Reform believe that, if we are to make our societies safer, prisoners must be allowed to take responsibility for their actions and transform their lives into law abiding citizens. Denying parolees access to vital services can only be counterproductive to this aim. To find out more about the Howard League visit http://www.howardleague.org