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Alternatives to Prison

Redefining Rehabilitation: The Changing Approach to Reducing Recidivism


Janet Taveras started doing drugs when she was 19 years old. It began with cocaine, a sniff here or there, and before she knew it, Taveras had an addiction to crack that eventually landed her at Riker’s Island for six months on charges of weapons possession at age 24. Since then, Taveras has battled recidivism, bouncing in and out of prison and detoxification programs all over the state. Now, she believes what she needed was not detention, but a program that would treat the root of her behaviors.

“They say that jail is a place of rehabilitation,” says Taveras, now 44. “But when you look at the word rehabilitation what it means is to revert back to the state of origin. So when you’re rehabilitating somebody, what state of origin are you bringing them back to?”
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Female Drug Offenders: Punishment or Treatment?


Rene Jones was only 16 when she first tried cocaine. Soon her addiction to cocaine, crack, heroine and alcohol led to committing crimes, and in 1991, Jones was charged with criminal sale of a controlled substance and was arrested for the first time.

The 10 years she spent in prison completed her sentences (she’s been out on probation since 2003). But her 20-year addiction problem was only addressed less than a year ago after a judge’s decision sent her to Green Hope, a special program designed as an alternative to regular incarceration for drug offenders.

“It’s no different than prison, but you go to self-supporting groups and counselors everyday,” says Jones. “It helped me learn more about myself, and I stopped [using drugs] because I had the help to stop.”

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Female Incarceration and Suicide


When Cathy Smythe learned she was going back to prison for grand larceny, she took a knife and tried to slit her own throat.

“I’ve talked myself out of not using [drugs] anymore, not stealing anymore, not sleeping with someone anymore,” says Smythe. “I couldn’t talk myself out of this.”

She added: “I sharpened a knife—the knife I used to cut ribs with. I should’ve died, but God had a different plan.”

Within prisons, Smythe’s story is not unusual. According to a World Health Organization study, suicide “is often the single most common cause of death in correctional settings.” The same study found that female inmates attempt suicide five times more often than women outside of prison. And though incarcerated men have higher rates of completed suicide, female inmates attempt suicide twice as often as male inmates.

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