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Women Incarcerated In Texas Have Fewer Opportunities Than Men, Report Finds

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Austin Price for KUT

Incarcerated women in Texas have access to fewer educational and vocational programs compared to incarcerated men, a new study finds.

The study, released Tuesday by the local nonprofit Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, is the second of a two-part study that looks into the increasing numbers of incarcerated women.

It found women have access only to an associate’s degree plan and certifications for office administration and culinary arts/hospitality management, while men have access to programs ranging from associate's to master’s degrees, as well as 21 occupations. 

The advocacy group said the report showed the need for more programs for incarcerated women.

“The opportunities for women are going to be very different than if they had the opportunity to get an advanced degree while they were there,” Lindsey Linder, an attorney with TCJC, said. “It’s increasing the likelihood that these women aren’t going to be successful once released, and [success] should be the goal of incarceration."

Fifty-four percent of the more than 430 women who participated in the study also said they didn’t have adequate access to hygiene items such as tampons and sanitary napkins. Thirty-four percent of those women also said the Texas Department of Criminal Justice denied requested medical services.

“One of the women ... said, ‘It makes you feel less than human – much less like a woman,’” Linder said. “That’s so heartbreaking, and we have to do better by the women in the system.”

Tanya Hale, who served three and a half years in prison after failing to pay parole fees, said she agrees medical care is poor. While serving her six-year sentence, she said, she was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer. She said she wasn’t given adequate chemotherapy and medication during her treatment.

“A lot of what I’m going through now could have possibly been corrected if I had gotten the right medical treatment from the beginning,” Hale said.

Hale was granted medical reprieve and released in 2016. She now has Stage 4 cancer.

The report also highlighted barriers to communication with loved ones. Eighty-one percent of women in Texas prisons are mothers. Of those surveyed, 49 percent said they never saw their children while incarcerated, partially due to the cost of phone calls and the cancellation of face-to-face visitations in some facilities.

Linder said the state also must address low education levels and the lack of stable housing for former inmates to decrease the chance of reincarnation.  

“I think it’s so important to address those drivers while we have them in the system,” she said.

Among other things, the TCJC report called for lawmakers invest in program that address women’s unique needs According to the study, Texas saw a more than 900 percent increase in incarcerated women from 1980 to 2016.

DaLyah Jones is a former assistant producer for All Things Considered and evening host. She is also co-host of the Two & Fro podcast.
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