Women & Re-entry
In personal interviews conducted with incarcerated women throughout 2000 and 2001 to determine what could have prevented their return to prison, the highest need was safe housing. Because of diminished and unstable funding, and at times, inept organizational approaches, safe, supportive housing continues to be a major need in this community. It is estimated that there are less than one hundred beds available in Houston to women seeking to re-establish themselves after incarceration. Angela House receives approximately three hundred plus inquiries yearly from women seeking admission to our program and is the only facility in Harris County offering the array of services required to habilitate women who have been incarcerated. We can accommodate twelve to fourteen women at any given time.
Sadly, there is nothing to indicate that the number of women incarcerated in Texas will decline. In 2008, TDCJ released more than 1800 women to Harris County; an estimated three to four hundred women are released yearly from the Harris County Jail and the Federal Detention Facility located in Houston.
The need to continue this level of support has never been greater. According to The Jail Inreach Project, Houston, in 2007 an estimated 79,000 adults with serious mental illness were unable to access community-based public or private mental health services in Harris County, Texas. As a result, the Harris County Jail has become the de facto primary mental health care provider for the county. It serves as the largest provider of mental health beds in Texas and the second largest such provider in the nation (second only to the Los Angeles County Jail). This alarming statistic is compounded by the fact that recent budget constraints are diminishing the capacity of our area’s public mental health center, the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority (MHMRA), causing the mentally ill homeless population to cycle between shelters, emergency rooms and jail cells.
This unnecessary and expensive revolving door phenomenon can be prevented. Data from The Jail Inreach Project, which links the incarcerated mentally ill homeless population in the Harris County Jail with case management and community services prior to and after their release, shows that in combination with proper social and health services, the likelihood of rearrest decreases and the possibility of transitioning out of homelessness increases. Identified as a reputable social service for this population, Angela House has worked with The Jail Inreach Project since their inception in 2006, accepting clients upon their immediate release. Our therapy program is a crucial component to our service provision as our therapist provides women with the consistency and persistence required by our population’s mental health needs.
According to the Urban Institute Justice Policy Center (2001), the period immediately following release is the most critical as prisoners confront the real world obstacles they overlooked while incarcerated. The following list represents some of the issues identified that impede transition to a successful, independent lifestyle:
- Multiple physical and mental health issues
- History of physical, sexual and psychological abuse
- Educational and employment skill deficits
- Substance abuse
- Lack of parenting skills
- The stigma of being an ex-offender
In addition to budget constraints that are diminishing the capacity of our area’s public mental health center, the Mental Health Mental Retardation Authority (MHMRA), there is nothing to indicate that the number of women incarcerated in Texas will decline. The 1,100+ women released to Harris County by the Texas Department of Criminal Justice every year must compete with one another to gain access to less than one hundred available beds.
For more information regarding the challenges of re-entry for women in Houston please consider reading the following articles: