Yesterday, at work, one of our programs received devastating news – DOC has decided to withdraw its funding. They have until December 31st to close up shop. Our department is keeping this news confidential so the program coordinators can break the news to the women, and so DOC can release the news on its own timeline. I’m staggered, as I think we all were. I knew there had been some funding withdrawn for part of the program, but never thought they’d pull the whole thing.
The program’s focus was on rebuilding connections between women and their families, especially their young children. 70% of women in our prison have children, maybe more. I have witnessed the profound change that takes place when they start to see themselves as good parents, rebuilding their relationships with their children and their caregivers. I hear, so often, that much of their regret centers around having been such terrible parents, and in putting their children through so much grief.
Even though this program has been incredibly successful (almost non-existent recidivism rates for participants), it’s extremely expensive. DOC is looking for low-cost, low-recidivism, and high-cost, low-recidivism programming is a plum ripe for the plucking. Management made it clear it was a budget issue, so that money will be re-allocated elsewhere, maybe to the women, maybe not.
I feel useless in the face of what feels like a cold, calculated decision. How do you quantify the benefit to the community, both short and long term, of having stronger, more healthy families? How do you calculate the cost of keep children out of foster care, off assistance, and out of the justice system? How do you calculate the cost of breaking the cycle of incarceration, especially in poor and minority families?
Writing this post made me realize that I had to speak up, somehow, so I emailed my state representative. I don’t have any hope that he’ll do anything, but I can’t not speak up and try to make something happen. I also broke the request for confidentiality, which I’m tempted to interpret as a request (or demand) that we NOT say anything publicly until the decision is officially announced (i.e. a done deal).
The fact that the process and decision were all done without any input from staff (I asked if I could write a statement of support or write a letter and was told no) makes me think DOC doesn’t want anyone from the outside looking at the decision. They don’t want anyone making waves, or asking how they arrived at their conclusion.
I may just be suspicious and paranoid, but these are my friends and treasured colleagues and I can’t not try.