“[This program is] not going to be a one-size-fits all. It’s a program, but there are many programs within it. We’re going to throw everything we can at it and see what sticks.”
Each week, the women draw lots to see which jobs they’ll have for the week — they could serve as a mediator to help sort out interpersonal issues among the inmates, or they could facilitate weekly programming, enforce chores getting done or keep track of records within the program.
“This program means a lot to me because this is the first time that I’m addressing that I have a problem and I am an addict,” Mercedes Hall said. “And that means a lot to ... my family. This is the first time in my life I’ve actually had structure and consistency.”
A SHIFT IN POPULATION
In Floyd County, the average daily female population has nearly doubled between 2007 and 2017 to 59 from 35, a rise law enforcement attributes to the drug crisis that’s shaken Southern Indiana in the past several years. The growth of the male inmate population has been more steady during that time in Floyd County.
Clark County law enforcement is seeing similar growth, rising to an average daily female population of 131 in 2017, up from 56 in 2007.
Clark County Sheriff Jamey Noel and his Floyd County counterpart Sheriff Frank Loop say the growth in numbers comes with challenges to spacing and increased health costs associated with women. On a recent day in Clark County, there were eight pregnant women in jail.
In 2016, Clark County initiated three new programs targeted specifically to address the needs of the growing female population. A 12-week writing workshop, taught by local freelance journalist Amanda Beam, is designed to help women express themselves through written words. There is a separate group for women who are victims of physical, mental or sexual abuse, to help pave the way for them to become empowered survivors. There is also a pregnancy class for women who are or believe they may be pregnant.
“The more tools you can give an inmate, especially a female inmate, hopefully [means] they won’t return to jail and that’s what’s best for the family,” Noel said.
In Floyd County, nearly all of the women in the program said they have been incarcerated multiple times, and most are currently in for drug-related charges.
“Even if their charge isn’t a drug charge, it’s usually drug-related,” program member Goff said. “Whatever they’ve done, it was to get drugs.”
Floyd County Sheriff Frank Loop said the program can change the course of a woman’s life — to keep her from falling into the old ways before jail.
Often, they end up in jail again soon because “they go back to the same environment they had,” Loop said. “The same friends, because they don’t know anything else.”