For Women, a Cheaper, Better Alternative to Prison

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From The New York Times:

Here’s a riddle: Would you rather pay $10 dollars, one time, or $11, repeatedly, for the rest of your life?


Anessa Rabbit (photo: Andrea Morales for the NYT)

If you chose the first option, you acted logically. If you chose the second option, you acted the way the United States government acts when it imprisons female drug addicts.

As a country, we’ve chosen the expensive option: rather than treat addicts, we incarcerate them. When they reoffend, we incarcerate them again — and again and again and again.

Luckily, the inexpensive solution is also the humane solution. When we talk about female drug addicts, more often than not, we’re talking about women who were molested or beaten in childhood and self-medicated the only way they knew how. The path for them to get clean is to address the traumas that drive their addictions.

In Tulsa, Okla., I visited a female-only drug treatment center called Women in Recovery. Of their patients, 65 percent had been victims of childhood sexual abuse.

I met one woman named Anessa Rabbit, 31. She said her dad molested her when she was 7. She remembers the day clearly. Her younger sister was at the other end of the couch. “I made a noise while she was watching Mr. Rogers,” Rabbit said, and then, “I got up and ran.”

“That threw everything off. I thought it was my fault,” she said. “I was dirty. I blamed myself for what happened.”

At age 11, she started smoking meth. By 13, she said, “I thought I was a big girl. I moved into a place with a marine.” They continued using together: he shot her up with a needle for the first time. She dropped out of school her freshman year of high school, and by 17 she was married. She had two children soon after.

Eventually, she split with her husband, the five-years-older marine, who had become physically abusive. Later, she wound up in another abusive relationship with a drug dealer. She said he beat her, pistol-whipped her and once choked her so intensely she thought she would die.

Often, he’d urge her to commit crimes for him, threatening her if she refused. In 2015, she was arrested when she robbed a drug buyer on his orders. She said he texted her beforehand, “You better get this bitch or I’m gonna get you.”

Coerced crime is a unique and all-too-common risk for women in abusive relationships. Gail Smith, director of the Women in Prison Project at the Correctional Association of New York, has met with thousands of incarcerated women over her 30-year career. “It’s unfortunately not uncommon,” she said, “for an abuser to coerce someone to commit a crime.”


Read the full text of the blog by Cassidy MacDonald here.