Success Inside and Out provides support and assistance through workshops and resources to women in prison as they prepare for their transition back into the community. The program also brings together judges, attorneys and other professionals to assist in areas of need in their communities during these periods of transition.
NAWJ, DISTRICT SIX, REGIONAL CONFERENCE INSPIRES A CALL TO ACTION
By Trina S. Vincent, Public Information Specialist, Community Relations Department, Louisiana Supreme Court
The National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ), District Six is on the move and committed to inform, encourage and take action. This was apparent as NAWJ District Six, led by Director, Judge Sheva Sims, Shreveport City Court, hosted its 2019 regional conference entitled, Visionary Women: Champions of Perseverance, Persistence, and Progress. Not only was the conference an informative meeting of jurists, legal professionals, law students, and the public, but it was also a mentoring vehicle of living examples who shared their accomplishments and inspired a call to action. It was camaraderie for sitting judges who united with colleagues in solidarity to support and exchange nuggets of wisdom on service and applying justice with integrity. It inspired action to rise to the challenge of combatting recidivism, human trafficking, and domestic violence as well as the responsibility to get involved with the Woman in Prison Program, a passion of Judge Sims and Louisiana Supreme Court, Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson.
The “Judicial Firsts Paving the Way” Roundtable was a discussion of judicial leaders, which included Chief Justice Johnson; Associate Justice Jeanette Knoll, Retired, Louisiana Supreme Court; Chief Judge Felicia Toney Williams, Louisiana Court of Appeal, Second Circuit; and NAWJ President-elect Judge Bernadette D'Souza, Orleans Civil District Court. These women were the first females and first African American females to sit in their respective offices on the bench offered guidance to students from Southern University at Shreveport and attendees. Guests were privy to an in-depth discussion on the Women in Prison program as panelists, Judge Arthur Hunter, Orleans Parish Criminal Court; Chief Justice Johnson; and April Baur, Program Manager, Louisiana Transitional Center for Women (LTCW) who described new reentry programs and the challenges women face once released from prison to find housing, clothing and jobs. Judge Joy Cossich Lobrano, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal, New Orleans, presented on Human Trafficking. Other male jurists who supported the NAWJ through instruction and presentations were Louisiana Supreme Court Associate Justice Scott Crichton, who presented on ethics, social media, and a memorial to a judicial giant, and James Stewart, District Attorney, Caddo Parish, led a Women and Domestic Violence presentation.
Mentoring took precedence through the Color of Justice program, which inspires girls and minorities to consider legal careers. Panelists included Judge Aisha Clark, Monroe City Court; Judge Yvette Alexander, Baton Rouge City Court; Judges Paula Brown and Regina Bartholomew-Woods, Fourth Circuit Court of Appeal New Orleans; along with Attorney Curtis Joseph of Shreveport. Through mentorship and instruction, the continuous message woven throughout the conference was to support upcoming legal minds and to inspire all to action, especially in the areas of Human Trafficking, Domestic Violence, and Women in Prison issues.
The mantra of NAWJ District Six to take action was also apparent by financially supporting the law students. At the Awards and Recognition Dinner, Assistant City Attorney, Felicia M. Hamilton, Shreveport, who organized the local scholarship program, awarded Visionary Women: Champions of Perseverance, Persistence and Progress Scholarships to Allison Payne, Loyola University New Orleans College of Law; Zakia Nesbitt Louisiana State University - Paul M. Hebert Law Center; Monette Davis, and Shearil Matthews, Lauren Grant, Southern University Law Center; Kaylin Jolivette,; and Brittney Esie, Louisiana State University - Paul M. Hebert Law Center.
As the guest speaker for the Awards and Recognition Dinner, Chief Justice Johnson expounded on the difficulty incarcerated women face in getting sufficient hygiene and sanitary products that are safe for daily use, as well as their inability to successfully transition back into the community once they are released. Many recently released women have few options for employment and a place to live. Due to lack of skills, lack of clothing, limited opportunities, and no place to live, the probability of their returning to prison is high. This sparks another call to action.
Due to the consistent increase of the incarceration rate of women in the United States during the years 2000 – 2016, the Women in Prison Program has become one of the central areas of concentration for Chief Justice Johnson, who has encouraged Judge Sims to make a positive impact. While males remain the largest population in the nation’s prisons, the number of female inmates continues to climb, growing by more than 700% over the last 35 years. As a result of stricter drug penalties, more expansive laws, and an absence of reentry programs, this number could continue to rise.1
Judge Sheva Sims and NAWJ, District Six are advocates for addressing recidivism through the Women in Prison Program by implementing skills and educational reentry programs for incarcerated women at the Louisiana Transitional Center for Women (LTCW) in Tallulah and the Caddo Correctional Center (CCC) in Shreveport. The program, a response to over 100 incarcerated women who expressed interest in attaining employability skills, is a collaboration between judges, prison officials, as well as others. Judge Sims has collaborated with Warden Billy Tigner and Warden Phil Bickham of the LTCW and Sheriff Steve Prator of the CCC, who have agreed to allow the use of their facilities in support of this initiative. Other partners include the Cosmetology Board of Louisiana, Dr. Rich Bateman, Jr., Chancellor and Karen Recchia, Vice Chancellor of Student Services, both of Bossier Parish Community College (BPCC) which will offer online courses to earn an associate degree; Dr. Rodney Ellis, Chancellor, Southern University at Shreveport (SUSLA) which is creating a curriculum for instructors to teach at the facilities; Chancellor John Pierre, Southern University Law Center (SULC) which has partnered with SUSLA to provide expungements to qualified participants upon completion of their sentences. Andrea Buttross, Louisiana Department of Corrections is instrumental in furnishings and supplies for the cosmetology class.
The message was repeated throughout the conference; action must be taken to address the recidivism of incarcerated women in Louisiana as it has been for incarcerated men. In Louisiana, of the 18,000 male and female offenders who are released from prison each year, 43% will return in less than five years due in part to lack of employment and the inability to find a place to live.2 The strategy is to provide incarcerated women serving approximately two years or less with skills and an education taught by BPCC or SUSLA instructors to become licensed cosmetologists or earn associate degrees which better prepare them to find employment and a place to live once they are released.
Chief Justice Johnson and Judge Sims concluded the conference with action. They scheduled a tour and meeting with Warden Billy Tigner and April Baur, LTCW; Attorney Kenn Barnes, Jr., Special Counsel, Pre-Trial Services, Louisiana Supreme Court; and Judge Arthur Hunter to see and discuss the area that is earmarked for the new cosmetology classes as well as the new Coding Program that Judge Hunter is organizing. Judge Sims has conferred with Judge Hunter, whose experience in this area comes from his co-founding (along with Judge Laurie White, Orleans Parish Criminal Court) the Orleans Reentry Court Workforce Development Program which began in Louisiana State Penitentiary (Angola). The program utilizes trained mentors who are incarcerated, to train and teach other incarcerated men life-skills and trades to better prepare them for success upon release. The group toured the building that houses the coding program for women at LTCW as well. Women will be trained in coding in a computer lab located within classrooms and because of Judge Sims efforts, a classroom and storage area will be converted into cosmetology classes taught by a licensed cosmetologist. To assist in providing safe toiletries and hygiene products, organizations such as the Alpha Kappa Alpha and Delta Sigma Theta Sororities were present at the conference and donated items to April Baur for women at LTCW. In addition, representatives of The Greater St. Stephens Full Gospel Baptist Church visited the facility to plan a course of action to continue to provide hygiene items in the future.
Armed with skills, education and the possibility of a clean slate, incarcerated women reentering their communities will have a better chance to find employment, a place to live and the opportunity to live successful lives. Louisiana Supreme Court Chief Justice Bernette Joshua Johnson commented, “I am pleased with the program and the efforts of Judge Sims and her team. When imprisoned women receive adequate support prior to release, their chance of future involvement in criminal activity is lessened, reducing the likelihood of recidivism."
Judge Sims said. ”I am honored that Chief Justice Johnson asked me to spearhead this initiative in Caddo and Madison parishes. This initiative will ultimately change the lives of women, children, and families. When women succeed, society wins.” The success of reentry programs such as this not only influences the future of incarcerated individuals, but also positively impacts, families, the prison system, and the taxpayers.
1. Historical Corrections Statistics in the United States, 1850-1984. (1986); Prison and Jail Inmates Series. (1997-2014.) Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics; Prisoners in 2016. (2018). Washington, DC: Bureau of Justice Statistics.
2. Louisiana Department of Public Safety and Corrections. https://doc.louisiana.gov/reentry-overview (2018)
The first Success Inside and Out was presented at Hiland Mountain Correctional Center in November, 2006 and the second in October, 2007. Success Inside and Out was developed under the guidance of then Alaska Supreme Court Chief Justice Dana Fabe and a steering committee comprised of 22 women leaders and judges. Success Inside and Out is a national program. The Hiland Conference’s goals are to:
• Provide mentorship and support for women in prison who are within one year or less of release;
• Provide women prisoners with information about resources available to them upon release; and
• Provide an opportunity for women judges and other women professionals to participate in a program within the prison, observe the prison environment, and become acquainted with correctional officials.
Below are links to planning and communications resources:
SAN DIEGO, CALIFORNIA
Women at the Las Colinas Detention and Reentry Facility in Santee are exploring ways to transition from living behind bars to becoming community members. Six months prior to their release, NAWJ members in collaboration with the Sheriff's Department's and associated community partners hold workshops to help women transition back into society. These reentry programs’ goals are to help inmates gain self-awareness of the dynamics that influence their behavior so they can make conscious choices that could break cycles of dysfunction which lead to repeat incarcerations, lessen crime, and enhance public safety.
Comprehensive information about San Diego’s Success Inside & Out’s programs, resources, workshops, and a video on the program may be found on their website here:
MARYLAND: WOMEN MOVING FORWARD PRE-RELEASE CONFERENCE
The first Women Moving Forward (WMF) Pre-Release Conference was held in partnership with the Maryland Correctional Institute for Women (MCIW) in the Fall of 2008, and continues to be held annually. The conference was initiated by the NAWJ.
The goal of the conference is to provide women who are within 6 to 9 months of release with resources and information necessary to support their successful return to the community. Resources include workshops on a variety of topics such as housing and home ownership, money and credit management, obtaining medical insurance, educational opportunities, family reunification, reentry mediation services, coping with trauma, substance abuse, and mental health concerns, yoga, meditation, and dealing with post-release legal issues, avoiding gangs, and tips on successfully navigating parole and probation requirements. Workshop topics also include skill building in parenting, anger management, positive thinking, and employment preparation including resume writing, job retention enhancement skills, and interviews with employers ready to hire upon the participant's release.
In addition to workshops, the conference includes a keynote and/or motivational speaker, a plenary session of formerly incarcerated women who have successfully transitioned home, a business attire fashion show, lunch, and a resource fair.
The WMF seeks to provide participants with a true conference experience – including the provision of conference bags containing a copy of the conference program, a t-shirt, a journal, and other assorted items such as a calendar, toiletries and other items donated by our partners and sponsors. In 2011, for the first time, in lieu of a t-shirt, we will be providing participants with a USB flash drive with various resources materials pre-loaded onto the flash drive including a resume template, medical insurance application, and information on other community services.
Comprehensive information about Maryland’s Women Moving Forward Reentry Conference and its resources may be found on their website here: