First Lady Wolf, Corrections Secretary highlight needs for women returning from prison

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HARRISBURG — On Wednesday, First Lady Frances Wolf hosted Women In Reentry: An Overview, the first in a series of virtual conversations between formerly incarcerated women, corrections professionals, reentry experts and advocates.

The panel discussed how the needs of these women are currently being met after incarceration and how the criminal justice system can improve to better serve them. 

“Over the past few years, my office has sought ways to elevate the challenges of women in reentry and we have met extraordinary advocates who are doing the work to lift up these women,” said First Lady Wolf. “I am honored to bring some of their voices to this conversation. It is an opportunity to raise awareness of what these women are up against, highlight the incredible advocacy that is taking place, and talk about what can be done better, so that we – government officials, service providers and community members – can ensure we are responding to the needs of Pennsylvania’s women.” 

According to the PA Department of Corrections (DOC), there are approximately 2,000 women in Pennsylvania’s state correctional institutions (PA SCIs), with 67 percent of the women serving sentences of five years or less. Nearly 90 percent of these women will be eligible for parole at some point.

While these numbers are relatively small compared to the 35,000 men in PA SCIs, the female population grew nearly 5 percent between 2010 and 2019. The male population decreased 11 percent in that same time.  

“The Pennsylvania Department of Corrections recognizes the importance of reentry to the safety and strengthening of our communities,” said Acting Corrections Secretary George Little. “Female reentrants face unique challenges in returning home. With the help of community and government partners, we promote success for our female returning citizens.” 

Recent DOC data shows that over 50 percent of women in PA SCIs have a history of substance abuse, and about 66 percent of women are on the DOC mental health roster.

“As a formerly incarcerated individual, I fight for women’s freedom because other women fought for mine,” said Tinika Hogan. who is now an incarcerated women’s work group consultant for ACLU PA. “People need support, people need to be given a chance so they can thrive. Women need to see and understand how much we need one another to stand strong. We need to know that we’re supported in all directions, not just by family or close friends.” 

Governor Wolf recently announced that as of October 1, the number of people incarcerated in state correctional facilities is 36,743 – the lowest total since 2001. The population total reflects a reduction of more than 8,300 individuals since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in March 2020.

This summer, the DOC launched an interactive dashboard that allows users to track the state prison population, the number of people under parole supervision, recidivism and other key data from the past 20 years.

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