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July 22, 2010

Theodora House Helps Female Offenders

by Abigail Coleman

Can you imagine being in prison, close to being released, and having to figure out how to pick up the pieces and restart your life when you return home? I can't. As if the challenges around being in prison are not great enough, it is even more difficult to rejoin society as a productive citizen, free of the barriers and issues an offender had when entering the system.

I recently had the opportunity to visit an organization I was not previously aware of, Volunteers of America's Theodora House. While Indiana's Volunteers of America (VOA) serves many purposes in our community and across the state, I was most impressed with how they help female offenders on work release transition successfully into our community.Theodora House is a 104 bed incarceration reentry facility, helping women on work release but not on parole or released from prison. Women housed there work and help pay for the services they receive. Many women they serve suffer from addictions and about 80 percent have been domestically abused. Most stay six months to one year, but some stay up to two years.

Healing Families is a VOA program helping those who have been abused and suffer from addictions. This voluntary program has a participation rate of about 90 percent and pairs a participant with a case manager who follows her through prison up to one year after she is released. Services include healthy relationships programs, educating women who often do not recognize they are victims of abuse.

Many women, while in prison, shift caregiving responsibilities to family members, to avoid foster care and allow them to resume custody when they are released. While a mother is engaged with Healing Families programs, the primary caregiver for their children—often a grandmother or aunt—receives objective help from a Family Coach, who is a Master of Social Work. The Family Coach works with the caregiver to create a transition plan, so that, as the mom re-enters society, caregiving responsibilities are shifted back to her in a manageable fashion. This helps prevent the mom from being overwhelmed with caregiving responsibilities after being released and helps the mom and children be more successful in the long-run.

Women staying at Theodora House are also paired with a Transition Coach, who helps them create a transition plan three months before they leave. A barrier buster fund provides financial assistance to women as they transition, granting up to $500 for things such as a damage deposit, in order to rent an apartment. In addition to these support services, women have access to computers, social events, and even a private suite, in which they can earn a stay—along with their children, if they choose.

As you can imagine, the women VOA serves are more likely to be successful when reentering society than peers not receiving these services.VOA can only serve a fraction of women who have been incarcerated, yet the value to the women they have served will ripple positively through their success in our community.

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1 Comment

Wednesday, February 8
I was a resident there for the last 3 months of my prison term. I was happy to be back in my hometown of Indianapolis and the counselors seemed to really care about the residents. However, as addiction treatment is concerned they are greatly lacking. While I was there I saw more drugs than I ever did on the streets. Also smoking is not allowed but the residents "sneak" cigarettes into the facility. This was hard because I am not a smoker but had to be constantly subjected to the smell. It was also quite loud with the women basically not respecting the others around them. To me this was very different from prison. In prison it is required that the inmates be quiet. So to go from a very controlled environment to chaos was unhelpful to me.

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