This article appears in the Spring 2017 MCRI newsletter
Women's Accelerated Reentry Program helps women's transition needs – and reduces census at Coffee Creek
By Jenna Moller, Bridgeway Recovery Services
By the end of 2016, Oregon was running out of options. Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville had been running at capacity for more than a year, causing behavioral issues between inmates and putting more stress on the facility than it could bear. To combat this, the Oregon Department of Corrections planned to open another prison. The Oregon legislature encouraged the Corrections Department to find another alternative. "Incarceration on its own hasn't proven to be super successful in reducing recidivism," said Tina Bialas, Behavioral Health Director at Bridgeway Recovery Services. So the department got to work.
On January 30, 2017, the Women's Accelerated Reentry Program was launched by the Marion County Sheriff's Office and Oregon Department of Corrections. Women at Coffee Creek serve up to the last six months of their prison sentence at Marion County Transition Center in Salem. Criteria for selection include being nonviolent offenders; having a history of substance abuse, mental health problems or co-occurring disorders; being within 180 days of their original release date; and releasing to Marion County. Once individuals are identified, they are transferred from Coffee Creek to the Transition Center. This is where the real work starts.
At the Transition Center, each woman is assigned a parole officer that is well-versed in the program's rigorous curriculum. Bridgeway Recovery Services staff conducts a thorough assessment of each woman and provides ongoing individual counseling support. Participants also attend weekly meetings with their parole officers; two classes a week facilitated by the De Muniz Resource Center; weekly employment classes run by Sheriff's Office staff; and five treatment groups a week facilitated by Bridgeway—all at the Transition Center. These women have experienced a high prevalence of trauma, such as childhood abuse and domestic violence. Such difficult experiences make the counseling support they receive that much more important.
Participants find many benefits from counseling support and classes. "I think the classes, [parole officer] interactions, and community reintegration have helped me tremendously," said one client. "I feel ready to get back out into life and that I'll be successful in reaching my goals."
Participants also get the chance to attend healthy leisure and recreational outings each week to help them feel connected to their community, including bowling or volunteering at the Marion-Polk Food Share. Outings are led by their parole officers as well as their Bridgeway Recovery Mentor, Morgan Nelson. "It gives the clients real life opportunities to practice pro-social behaviors," Bialas said.
Even more importantly, these trips have opened the women's eyes to new outlooks on life. "[These outings] showed me that you don't have to be high to have fun," said another participant.
The women also get an extra family visit. Bridgeway mentors facilitate these meetings and give women feedback after observing the visit, such as how they might communicate with their children more effectively or how they did a great job explaining how they felt about a certain situation. Mentors being involved with the participants' families help build relationships between the clients and mentor, which aids in treatment.
"I can't say enough how much good work [the Bridgeway mentors and counselors] have done," Bialas said, adding that because of them, program participants actively engage in treatment, even if they originally had no interest.
At the end 90 days, if participants complete the program without any behavioral issues, they receive a certificate and the opportunity to continue their substance abuse or mental health treatment with Bridgeway Recovery Services. "We're hoping this program will be personally impactful and hope [the women] will continue in treatment," Bialas noted.
Many women plan on doing just that. "I have found who my real self is, but I still have more exploring to do," said a participant. "Once I'm done, I'll be a brand new woman."