The superintendent of the Washington Corrections Center for Women says the prison is over its intended capacity, but programs it offers to qualified offenders are intended to break the cycle of incarceration.
Jane Parnell provided an update Sept. 26 on the state Department of Corrections facility during the weekly Chamber of Commerce-sponsored public affairs forum at Cottesmore of Life Care.
Since the corrections center is the only women’s prison in the state, any adult female with a conviction of 12 months or more is sent there.
“We average 900 offenders a day,” Parnell said, adding the capacity is for 735 inmates.
Washington state is ranked 41st nationwide in terms of the number of people incarcerated, Parnell said.
Most offenders come from backgrounds of physical or emotional abuse, and that often leads to drug use and dependency, Parnell said. The prison works to address those issues, she said.
“We have to get under their dependency,” Parnell said. “What drove them to use?”
Parnell praised the prison’s volunteers who make the educational, vocational and work programs possible.
Some are general education classes to help offenders get their GED. The facility also hosts a Prison Pet Partnership Program, during which offenders help train homeless dogs to be service animals. Inmates also can take a computer basics course or a Braille program, during which offenders transcribe various works for the blind.
“We are blessed to have programs that we have, a large majority of which are provided by volunteers,” Parnell said. “We have over 700 registered volunteers. They drive from as far as Seattle. We get a lot from Gig Harbor. We have more volunteers than any other facility in the state. I feel very blessed.”
The prison also boasts a nationally recognized daycare program for offenders who have children during their sentence. Parnell said one out of 10 children who have had a parent in prison may be incarcerated at some point in their lives, and she wants to reverse that course.
“We want to keep that child connected and give them better parenting skills,” Parnell said. “We’re trying to break that cycle, both for the offender and the child. We are the only facility — there are eight other nursery programs in the U.S. — we’re the only one that has a partnership with early head start. They work with offenders and children. They also have a daycare on site.”
Parnell said the prison puts mothers in real-life situations to simulate what their lives would be on the outside.
“We’re trying to create a parallel universe,” she said. “They take their babies to head start and pick them up in the afternoon.”
The prison also has a program in association with the Kiwanis Club during which offenders refurbish bicycles, which are provided to children from low-income families.
Parnell also touted the Trades Related Apprenticeship Coaching program.
“Offenders are partnered with three labor industries: construction, carpentry and ironwork,” she said. “It’s a 16-week course, then the labor union comes out and tests the women. Last time, for the first time ever, all the women in the program got all three certificates. They immediately go out and can get a job. They’ve already been tested with the union. It’s been really successful.”
The prison’s recidivism rate is at about 33 percent, although Parnell sees that as a positive.
“Thirty-three percent means two-thirds are staying out (of prison),” she said. “I think two-thirds staying out is pretty good.”
To address that issue, prison administrators work with offenders as soon as they arrive to match them up with skills they can learn while they’re incarcerated.
“We will have worked with you every step of the way,” Parnell said. “We begin thinking about where you are going to go. If we have those resources, we have a group called Women in Transition. It’s a volunteer group; they will begin working with you ahead of time to look for resources.”Reporter Jon Manley can be reached at 253-358-4151 or by email at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter, @gateway_jon.