13. VOICES OF WOMEN AND POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS
Chart 26: EXPERIENCES OF WOMEN IN COOK COUNTY JAIL
Women were asked, “At what point in your life would outside help have been beneficial?”
Other data collected from these surveys are enhanced by the many responses to this question. From them we glean some of the most salient recommendations on how best to assist women detained at Cook County Jail.
The Illinois legislature should conduct an in-depth analysis of the impact of detention on women who are charged with committing nonviolent offenses. If many of the women surveyed had access to benefits, services, job training, and housing while not in jail and upon release, chances are they would not be involved in an activity that leads to arrest. Instead of burdening an already overcrowded county jail system, the Illinois legislature and Cook County government should create sentencing options and invest in programs that not only assist women leaving jail but also are geared toward early intervention and prevention.
A. HOUSING, HOUSING, HOUSING
“I want to have a house when I get out of here.”
The majority of women have one simple request: HOUSING.
The need for stable housing is paramount for getting and keeping a job, kicking a drug habit, escaping an abusive relationship, and raising children. Far too many women in jail were homeless when they came into jail and expect to be homeless when they leave. Many of those who are not actually on the streets or in shelters are “couch surfing,” or tentatively housed with relatives or friends. Alternatively, they may be in abusive relation- ships, in which they stay due to a physical threat to escape, because they have no other place to go or means for survival.
Although the majority of the women entering jail re- ported being homeless, only 13 percent had received assistance with finding housing. Those who reported being homeless in the 30 days prior to entering Cook County Jail were more likely to have been victimized by violence, by both partners and strangers, and were regularly involved in prostitution, sometimes even for a place to stay. Roughly a quarter of women surveyed reported that lack of housing was a barrier to employ- ment. Homeless women were also less likely to be employed full time than were those with housing.
Another major barrier to employment identified by women was substance abuse, and homeless women also reported having less access to substance abuse treatment than did women with housing. All these factors contrib- ute to a woman’s repeat detention: women without housing were twice as likely to be detained six or more times as women with housing.
RECOMMENDATION: Create a comprehensive housing plan to help women in jail secure housing upon release by augmenting existing resources and investing in the development of affordable housing for formerly detained women.
“If I had had help in abusive relationships, I probably would not even be here.”
A majority of women reported being sexually or physically abused as children and adults or witnessing that abuse in the form of domestic violence. Women were able to point to these experiences as a catalyst for their subsequent drug abuse and other self-destructive behavior.
CHICAGO COALITION FOR THE HOMELESS 17