Woman Behind 'Orange Is The New Black' Is Pushing An Unusual Alternative To Jailing Women

Mothers in prison californiaReuters/Lucy NicholsonVanessa Moreno, 24, holds her two-month-old baby Makayla at Prototypes residential treatment program in Pomona, California, March 26, 2013.

The woman whose
memoir“Orange is the New Black” inspired a hit Netflix series is promoting an unusual program to make sure women
don’t get shipped to prisonsfar from their families.

Piper Kerman, who spent a year in a low-security facility herself, said in a New York Times op-ed that nonviolent women who plead guilty to felonies should be able to stay in their homes with their kids instead of going to prison.

While this seems like an unusual idea, the Brooklyn District Attorney’s office and the Women’s Prison Association (where Kerman sits on the board) announced plans this spring to launch a program that allows select female offenders to do just this.

The program, JusticeHome, won’t require women to wear ankle monitors or even stay at home all the time, according to the New York Daily News’ Joanna Molloy. Women accepted into JusticeHome will have to report to court regularly and receive visits from case managers several times a week. They’ll get job training and GED classes.

Kerman says the program will cost $US15,000 per woman — far less than it would cost to jail a woman for a year.

Kerman promoted the program in an op-ed that called out the Federal Bureau of Prisons for booting women prisoners from its only all-female facility in the Northeast — the one in Danbury, Conn., where Kerman did time for a 10-year-old drug offence.

That facility holds about 1,000 prisoners, plus 200 other prisoners in a separate low-security wing that housed Kerman. (The low-security wing will stay open.) Many of the women at Danbury will have to go to a new federal prison in tiny Aliceville, Ala., 1,070 miles from New York City, Slate’s Judith Resnick writes.

Life could get much worse for many women who cherish weekly visits from their families.

Kerman is absolutely correct that programs like JusticeHome could be a humane, low-cost, and effective way to stop the government from separating troubled women from their loved ones.

In Brooklyn, where the program is just getting off the ground, there may be pushback from male prisoners, though. After all, a lot of guys go to prison for nonviolent drug offenses. It doesn’t seem quite fair that a select group of women would be able to avoid prison altogether.

Still, the Daily News’ Molloy points out that more women head families than men. And, according to Women’s Prison Association President Georgia Lerner, women often commit crimes for different reasons from men.

“We’ve seen women who’ve sold drugs in order to buy groceries for their family, or diapers or formula. They’re expensive,” Lerner told the Daily News.

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