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Women behind bars: a growing problem

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? . Some facts about female offenders:

Between 1990 and 1998, the imprisonment rate of women increased 88 percent nationally, and the number of women under parole supervision grew 80 percent, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Roughly 693 women are in state prisons on a given day, according to the Oregon Department of Corrections. About 236 women across the state are in county jails on a given day.

More than 600 women in Jackson County are currently on parole or probation.

Sixty percent of Jackson County women incarcerated between 1999 and 2000 at the Jackson County Jail reoffended within a year, officials say.

More than 230 men and women are booked daily at the county jail, which can house up to 36 women at a time. The jail has a federally imposed cap of 190. To meet that cap, female offenders are likely to be released early because of limited space.

More than 60 percent of women incarcerated in state prisons report that they have been physically or sexually abused, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics.

Between 70 percent and 80 percent of female inmates have dependent children at the time of their incarceration, according to the bureau. — — — In 10 years, the percentage of women inmates at the Jackson County Jail has doubled. But programs for female inmates have remained stagnant. We don't have resources for women here, and that's the truth, a corrections official says

First of two parts

JILL BRISKEY

Prospect resident Suzy Marie Schaffran is a single mother who finds joy in the simple things ' watching her son play football, walking outside in the fresh air and drinking Dutch Bros. coffee.

She's also a drug addict and repeat offender who traded in those privileges for a 760-day sentence in the slammer.

I didn't want to face up to this. I was going to run. But I didn't want to look over my shoulder all the time, said Schaffran, 37, who in September pleaded guilty to endangering the welfare of a minor and delivery of methamphetamine. I've made a lot of bad choices in the past, but in my heart I'm not a bad person. I plan on making the best of out of this deal.

Schaffran is among 1,376 women who have been lodged in the county jail since January and is part of a trend that has seen the number of women incarcerated in the jail triple in the last 20 years.

Ten years ago, women made up 10 percent of county jail and prison populations statewide. Today, they represent 20 percent ' a statistic that holds true in Jackson County as well, county officials say.

But as their numbers have grown, resources and services directed at female inmates have remained stagnant.

There's far more money for men than there is for women, said Jarren Atkinson, senior deputy parole and probation officer. We don't have resources for women here, and that's the truth.

When the jail was built in 1981, it was designed to house up to 18 women. Today, creative shuffling has resulted in 36 spots for women offenders.

Both male and female, we're overcrowded, said jail Lt. Jim Warren. But we make do the best we can.

Because there is nowhere to put them, women are more likely than men to be released early to meet a federally imposed cap on the jail's population, Warren added.

Female offenders are lodged in the county jail on criminal charges, serve their sentences in the same facility and eventually are transferred to a state prison or released.

In contrast, male offenders await trial in the county jail. Sentences are served at the Talent detention center, where sex-offender treatment and programs to help them make better decisions are offered. Or they are sent to the Community Justice Work Center, where they perform jobs throughout the community in lieu of jail time. In addition to job skills, they receive counseling.

The recidivism rate is higher than 50 percent among all male offenders. But it's less than 5 percent among men who complete the decision-making program, known as cognitive restructuring, according to Community Justice Director Bob Grindstaff.

Grindstaff said the lack of resources for female offenders contributes to their recidivism rate of more than 60 percent.

They return to the same environment once they leave the jail, Grindstaff said.

Medford resident Margie Carvajal, 41, has spent most of her adult life in and out of the Jackson County Jail.

She blames her continuing criminal behavior on two factors ' drug addiction and what Carvajal calls a nonexistent support system for female inmates once they've been released.

You've got nowhere to go, and it's cold. You're hungry, and you need to make money, said Carvajal, who spent September in jail on separate and unrelated charges of robbery, theft and forgery. I go to my 'connect's' house. Next thing you know, you're out there on the streets getting high.

Both a halfway house and work camp for women are in the planning stages in Jackson County, but if or when they will be constructed remains unclear.

A transitional home that would help keep women from returning to their old lifestyles can't be built soon enough, said senior deputy parole and probation officer Barbara Northrop.

Northrop and Atkinson supervise 100 of the 600 Jackson County women serving parole or probation sentences.

The two women agree safe housing for female offenders, especially mothers, is in short supply.

Adult and Family Services offers aid to female offenders only if the woman has a case history with the agency, such as prior child neglect or abuse charges. The area's three halfway houses for men occasionally accept female offenders, but children are not allowed. Statistics show up to 80 percent of female inmates are the primary caretakers of children.

Northrop recently counseled a homeless parolee with a 13-day-old son. She said the woman had a history of drug use but was a good mother trying to change her life.

She needed housing, but I had no place, no place to put her. I don't want her down in the local motels, and she didn't want it either, Northrop said. It's almost like she's being punished because she's not involved with child welfare. It's just not fair.

Most women serving time locally are also jobless, county statistics show.

Grindstaff said a work camp for women would help female offenders learn trade skills and find jobs after release. Plans are being drawn for a facility that would cater to the unique needs presented by women.

These include a child-friendly visitation area, a nurse practitioner and a female staff to oversee the housing unit of the work camp.

Central Point resident Ann Marie Clair Eaton, 36, has more than a dozen drug-related convictions, but said her record doesn't change the fact that she's a motivated, hard-working individual.

Eaton is serving a 30-day sentence for a parole violation.

She's a voluntary trustee at the jail, working in the laundry room or cleaning the facility, to avoid the boredom and monotony of sitting inside a jail cell.

Eaton said she would volunteer for a work camp in a heartbeat.

A poor decision doesn't necessarily make us bad people, Eaton said as she removed clean uniforms from an industrial-sized dryer. (Female offenders) in here have no self-esteem and obviously view themselves as damaged and worthless. I know that if they were in the right surroundings they would begin to view themselves as the smart and beautiful women they are.

Reach reporter Jill Briskey at 776-4485, or e-mail

Suzy Marie Schaffran, an inmate at the Jackson County Jail, talks to a visitor from a phone behind a glass booth. The number of women jailed in Jackson County is climbing steadily, leaving officials scrambling for cell space and trying to come up with ways to improve the women's transition back into the community when their sentences are up. Mail Tribune / Jim Craven - Mail Tribune Jim Craven