THE “TYPICAL” WOMAN The 235 surveys indicate that the typical woman sur- veyed is African American and has at least two children under the age of 18 who are in the custody of her family. She is most likely homeless before entering jail and is at high risk of being homeless upon release. She is most likely a survivor of childhood abuse and of adult violence at the hands of a partner. She may have a substance abuse history or an emotional or mental health problem, possibly linked to her prior experiences of abuse, for which she could not access treatment and care.
The typical woman surveyed has a limited education, experiences high levels of unemployment and has been detained in Cook County Jail two to five times thus far. She may also be regularly involved in prostitution for a survival need such as a place to stay or to satisfy an untreated addiction. If regularly involved in prostitution, she is even more likely to be a survivor of violence, face increased rates of detention, and be homeless when not detained in jail.
POLICY RECOMMENDATIONS Women were asked, “At what point in your life would outside help have been beneficial?” The quantitative data collected from these surveys are enhanced by the many responses to this question. From these collective responses we glean some of the most salient recommen- dations 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 for 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 their 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.
2 UNLOCKING OPTIONS FOR WOMEN
❏ RECOMMENDATION: Pass legislation that provides alternatives to incarceration sentencing options so Cook County judges can sentence women to services rather than prison. Create the model Residential Treatment and Transition Center for Women, which will help detainees access the many services they need, reduce recidivism, and help heal families.
❏ 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.
❏ RECOMMENDATION: Create Government assistance programs that meet the specific needs of formerly detained women and promote utilization of existing supports including childcare assistance, medical coverage, and transportation assis- tance. Women should be linked with these services immediately upon release from jail. Conviction of any type should not be a reason to bar women from receiving benefits.
❏ RECOMMENDATION: Increase resources in jail to assist women address trauma and other effects of violence. Immediately upon release women should have a safe place to go and be linked to community-based survivor supports.
❏ RECOMMENDATION: Increase resources for community-based inpatient and outpatient treatment programs that provide holistic, gender specific models of care that can accommodate women immediately upon request and provide linkage to women in jail.