The transition period after being released from prison, especially after a long sentence, can be a shock to the system. So much so that many previously incarcerated individuals backslide into offending again, either because they lack the support system that can help them regain a normal life, or simply to return to familiar surroundings.
The Center for Women in Charlotte, North Carolina, was established to help imprisoned women on the cusp of completing their sentences to avoid this outcome. The Center is a unique residential work-release program designed to help women adjust to life outside of prison. It was launched by Charlotte’s Center for Community Transitions (CCT), a nonprofit organization that provides reentry services to people and families who have experienced incarceration.
The two gray houses that make up the Center for Women are located on a small plot of land in northeast Charlotte and can accommodate up to 30 incarcerated women at a time from all over the state. Inside, you can find women sketching or painting, absorbed by a television series, or cooking. Outside, you may see them taking a stroll or working in the garden.
The inhabitants have ditched their prison uniforms and wear their own clothes. There aren’t any fences, bars, or barriers. For these women, it’s a home, even if they are still serving their sentences.
The CCT has a three-prong approach that consists of an employment program, a program that works with families and the children of incarcerated people that focuses on social and emotional wellness, and the residential program, which frees women from their cells and into the Center for Women.
The employment program is built to prepare incarcerated people to return to the workforce, especially those whose past arrests are barriers to getting jobs.
The family program is particularly geared toward the 80 percent of women at the center who are mothers of children who, for the most part, are under the age of 18. Studies show that parental incarceration can have residual effects on children that manifest as behavioral or health problems, which is why the CCT believes a holistic approach is the best way to help families cope.
The residential program, as was mentioned earlier, allows women to live full-time with more (but not total) freedom at the Center for Women. There they also have rehabilitative support and more resources than a traditional jail can offer.
To be considered for the program, there are some stipulations—potential applicants mustn’t have had any infractions from prison correctional officers for a specific period of time, and they must come from lower-security facilities.
Executive director Patrice Funderburg says, “we’re really proud of our program in the way that we are able to address both the parent and the child simultaneously to disrupt the cycle of incarceration, lower recidivism rates for adults that may find themselves in situations where re-arrest is probably and improve public safety in our communities because we’re contributing to the economic development of our neighborhoods where people can thrive.”
Many of the women in the criminal legal system end up there because they come from impoverished, unstable backgrounds and haven’t had the support to help them through issues like substance abuse, mental illness, and histories of physical and sexual abuse. While incarcerated men also face these problems, female prisoners often have more barriers like motherhood and sexual abuse. The CCT hopes that their work can mitigate these hurdles and provide these women and their communities an opportunity to start anew.
Source Image: Center for Community Transitions