“Black and white people use illicit drugs at about the same rate, but blacks are more likely to be incarcerated for drug offenses. Treatment, not incarceration, is needed for those who are addicted to and convicted of possession of illicit drugs.”
— Monique L. Dixon, Deputy Director of Programs and the Director of the Criminal and Juvenile Justice Program of Open Society Institute-Baltimore
Involvement with the criminal justice system affects many of the women whose stories are featured in this book; included in this section are six women’s tales where incarceration looms large as part of their journey with addiction.
Their experiences conform to problems within today’s criminal justice system: exploding recidivism and imprisonment rates; the need for more effective pathways to treatment; the obstacle a prison record presents to successful employment; and more.
Economic analysis has shown imprisonment does not make sense as a cost-effective means of addressing illicit drug dependence. According to a 2011 report, “every $1 spent on treatment brings $7 in benefits to society” and “prison only generates $0.37 for each dollar spent.” The report concludes, “At a time when public expenditures are being given close scrutiny, there is a strong economic argument to be made for investing in substance abuse treatment rather than incarceration.”1
Despite incarceration becoming a turning point for some of the women—a judge insisting Trina Selden enter a long-term residential program; Paris Turner coming into contact with RESTART (Re-entry Enforcement Services Targeting Addiction, Rehabilitation, and Treatment)—the criminal justice system is not currently effective in supporting successful re-entry to society: “67% of recently incarcerated women were not directed to re-entry services upon release” in Baltimore City in 2003, according to one report2; a separate report notes, “Substance abuse, vocational training, and educational programs are available to a small fraction of those being released.”3
Paris Turner’s history of repeat offenses (“I boosted, I got caught, I did 30 days; I came home, boosted again, got caught … It just kept repeating itself … “) offers but one example of someone who may have benefitted from support services not only upon release from jail, but also as part of her involvement within the criminal justice system. Observes one report: “Those who participated in substance abuse treatment programs while in prison were less likely to use drugs after release than those who did not participate.”4
In the stories to follow, the women sketch tales full of painful memories of incarceration: “I was terrified” (Chanta Whiting), “It’s hell” (Karen Floyd); frustration: “I kept applying for jobs, and nobody would hire me and it was because of my background … I started not wanting to put that answer on there that says, ‘Have you been convicted of a crime?'” (Paris Turner); and appreciation for the remarkable contrast Marian House offered: “When I first got here to Marian House, I felt an overwhelming sense of relief” (Karen Floyd). The women are angry: “How do you expect one to be productive if you are putting up all of these barriers? Stop building prisons and build rehabs or places for the youth to go!” (Trina Selden). They also are motivated to work for change, as we see with Trina Selden founding an organization that serves ex-offenders and advocates for policy reform.
That these and the other Marian House women were able to first overcome burdens presented by current policies and then translate their own negative experiences into positive contributions speaks volumes about their strengths. Living testimonies of success, their feelings and thoughts deserve to be heard. As stated in one recent report, “It is our hope that listening to the experiences of those prisoners … will point the way to policy innovations that are empirically grounded, pragmatic, and reflective of the realities of re-entry.”5
- Still Serving Time: Struggling with Homelessness, Incarceration & Re-Entry in Baltimore, October 2011 report issued by Health Care for the Homeless, Inc., p.21
- Still Serving Time: Struggling with Homelessness, Incarceration & Re-Entry in Baltimore, October 2011 report issued by Health Care for the Homeless, Inc., p.7
- Baltimore Prisoners Experiences Returning Home, March 2004 report issued by Urban Institute, p.7
- Baltimore Prisoners Experiences Returning Home, March 2004 report issued by Urban Institute, p.2
- Baltimore Prisoners Experiences Returning Home, March 2004 report issued by Urban Institute, p.1