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Practical Tips for Helping Women Who’ve Been In Jail for a Long Time
Many female inmates struggle daily with hygiene and tampon scarcity, poorly funded libraries, lack of support, pregnancy-related issues, and re-entry into public life. Women of color, LGBTQ, and disabled inmates are faced with even more obstacles often inherent in the system itself.
If you’re interested in helping women in prison, both in the short and long-term, here’s how.
Become a Confidant by Joining a Penpal Initiative
Many incarcerated women don’t have direct contact with the outside world, making it difficult for them to adjust once they’re on the outside. Groups like Free Minds Book Club & Writing Workshop, and Voices From Inside can help you connect with inmates who need you the most.
If you need to find an incarcerated woman in New Jersey, use the Salem County Correctional inmate roster. Without critical information, like an inmate number or the jail’s address, you won’t be able to send them gifts, letters, or communicate with them.
Donate Books, Money for Bail, and Your Time
Most jails and prisons don’t allow you to send books or other educational material unless it’s from the publisher, Amazon, or another organization. There are several organizations that gather reading material for women, such as the Women’s Prison Book Project.
You can also help release mothers for bail on holidays. Black Mama’s Bail Out Day is a great organization that pays bail for thousands of women across the United States. If all you have is time, consider signing up for a prison ministry or the Prison Yoga Project as a volunteer.
Support Reproductive Rights and LGBTQ Inmates
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) actively works to secure an inmates’ right to abortion, medical care, and healthy labor and childbirth. You can donate to the ACLU or attend a national prison doula training event to help women inside the prison.
ACLU also fights anti-LGBTQ discrimination, protects an inmate’s right to protest, and safeguards the rights of refugees and immigrants. Black & Pink exclusively works with LGBTQ inmates by creating a penpal initiative. LGBT Books for Prisoners allows you to send books.
Provide Outreach for Black Women and Their Communities
Black men and women face several injustices at the hands of the American justice system, including institutionalized racism, direct racism, and sexism. Color of Change works to remedy these injustices by increasing accountability for those in power and changing the system.
The National Black Women’s Justice Institute specifically works with black women and their communities. The NAACP seeks to improve opportunities for women once they’re released and eliminate the unfair, harsher sentencing practices responsible for mass incarceration.
Create or Become Active in Women-Led Organizations
Women should support other women, and several youth-led organizations, like Young Women’s Freedom Center, can help assist others who need help both in and out of prison. You can donate to these organizations or be a casual volunteer if you can’t.
Since women often earn less than men, either because they’re single parents or for other systemic reasons, they don’t have the funds to pay for adequate representation. This leads to several wrongfully convicted women, but organizations like the Women’s Project can help.
Be a Voice for Disabled and/or Mentally Ill Inmates
Approximately 20% of jailed inmates and 15% of prison inmates have a severe mental illness, but there aren’t many programs in the United States that support them. You can help support women with mental illnesses by donating to causes or by being a friend to them.
Disabled inmates are discriminated against in the prison system. AVID and the National Disability Rights Network are bringing awareness to these issues and advocating for more opportunities for disabled individuals in prison or to release them if they’re wrongfully detained.