Women behind bars have rights, too.
That’s the premise behind Our Place D.C., a non-profit that helps and advocates for currently and formerly incarcerated women.
“While I know the goal is to protect society from offenders, I’d like you to ask yourselves how long should this punishment endure after the offender has served her sentence and at what cost?” reads one of the large signs posted at its office on K Street Northwest.
Ashley McSwain, executive director of Our Place, said the group helps reduce how many former prisoners commit new crimes and go back to jail – something that benefits everyone.
She’s especially proud that Our Place hires back 60 percent of its former clients: “The women we serve are running our company. I love that; it’s the neatest part of this team.” Often, women who are released from prison take a bus straight to K street, arriving with nothing more than the clothes on their back. McSwan described what happens after that bus ride:
“A woman will come in and meet our drop-in center manager, and they determine what her needs are. They prioritize: does she have a warrant? Does she need to see an attorney? Our client’s needs dictate the order of services. If she needs a job, we help her find employment. If she needs housing, a case manager helps with housing assistance. As long as she has a need, she can continue to come to us, until she gets all of those needs addressed. We want her to be successful.”
Our Place, which served 1,500 women in 2010, provides a 15-minute training on preventing the transmission of Human Immunodefiency Virus and Sexually Transmitted Diseases.
It also provides a support system “A lot of women that we see inherited poverty. Their parents were addicts. They didn’t have a fighting chance. They have been sexually abused and violently beaten by loved ones. We facilitate a transformation through learning and knowledge. These women need a catalyst to make different choices.”
But the services come at a cost, as the group makes abundantly clear by large signs on its walls. One reads: “It takes $9,737 to provide birth certificates, ID and police clearance to 1,324 women over the course of one year.”
For more information or to donate SmarTrip cards, children’s books, socks, new under garments, food and other items, visit the group’s website, www.ourplacedc.org