To learn more about The Portia Project contact Barbara Aldave

From The Soroptimistles Newsletter November/December 2012

Prisons and People:
A Focus on Women and their Children

By Gale Smith, President, Soroptimist International of Eugene

A conference weekend dedicated to learning about the incarceration of women and the unintended consequences may sound more depressing than inspiring but I came away from The Portia Project conference with so many positives that I was indeed inspired that change is possible. Here is a sampling of the good news.

After hearing several reports from the Law School students in Barbara Aldave's Women in Prison Seminar regarding the history, conditions and causes leading to incarceration, the situation seemed bleak. So many prisoners suffer from mental illness and a history of abuse. The explosion of female inmates since the minimum mandatory sentencing laws took effect in the 1990's has led to overcrowding in institutions never designed to address the specific needs of female inmates and their families. Enter the new Administration at Coffee Creek led by Kim Brockamp and Lisa Hall. Both these dynamic women bring a fresh approach to addressing the varied needs while improving safety, services and educational opportunities. There are a number of ways we may be able to help provide funds to women seeking to further their educations while behind bars.

I am happy to bring the good news from Sponsors Inc. that they did receive the large housing grant from the city. With 70% of the construction costs secured they will be able to start building in the near future. They are celebrating 40 years of service to clients in Lane County this spring and will be hosting several events including a Gala on March 16 featuring Sister Helen Prejean, author of Dead Man Walking. There is much cause for celebration with the addition of a facility dedicated to women, their children and their successful reunification.

One of the most enlightening presentations was from the Washington Department of Corrections and their Parent Sentencing Alternative. This new approach to corrections allows parents of minor children to be sentenced to a 12-month intensive supervision program in the home rather than serving time behind bars. There is also an early release option for inmates. The guidelines are strict for placement in the program as you can imagine but the intent is to keep families together and provide support to ensure future success. It was refreshing to hear about a program that places the best interest of the children first.

I feel grateful for the opportunity to be educated about the many issues and inspired to work for the necessary changes. There are many ways Soroptimist can get involved in our community, at the prison and as advocates for change. Let's get busy.