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West Virginia Anti-Violence Strategy Addresses Female Offenders

August 4, 2011
The following blog appears courtesy of Susan B. Carbon, Director, Office on Violence Against Women This summer an important partnership to implement the Attorney General’s Anti-Violence Strategy was launched on the grounds of the Northern Regional Jail in Moundsville, West Virginia. United States Attorney William J. Ihlenfeld, II and I announced the three main components of the strategy, known as Project POWER – Preventing Offenses of Weapons, Enforcement and Reentry. United States Attorney Ihlenfeld used the day to highlight a major effort to educate female inmates about the dangers of knowingly purchasing firearms for someone else in hopes that this education will help prevent them from returning to jail once they are released.  The prevention and intervention efforts in West Virginia include outreach to female inmates, with the goal of helping them avoid abusive relationships once they are released. The day began with a discussion with twelve women inmates at the West Virginia Northern Regional Jail. These women were victims of abuse as children and later at the hands of husbands or boyfriends, men who later pressured these women to commit crime. For these women, abuse was a normal, everyday part of life.  Now they were behind bars at a women’s prison talking about what brought them there and what they would need to succeed when they were released.    These women have goals and hope to better their lives after serving their time. They want to then start a new path.  Unfortunately they will leave prison with limited resources. Most will be registered felons, be jobless and have limited job opportunities.  As one woman expressed, “We’re not interested in reentry, we need to reinvent ourselves, and we will need help to do that.”  Sadly, most of the women lamented that upon release, it will be their abusers who will be there to take them home, using their children as tools of manipulation unless they have access to sufficient resources to live independently.   The efforts of the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) to address intervention and prevention initiatives are key to ending the cycle of crime. The women at the West Virginia Northern Regional Jail said they wished someone had talked to them in school – perhaps a teacher, a guidance counselor, or a guest teacher in a health class.  Although many of them knew of, and applied for, domestic violence protection orders, very few of them had advocates that helped them along the way.  And, no one had educated them about the restrictions on access to firearms for those who had abused them, and the dangers to victims of their involvement as purchasers for weapons intended for someone else’s use.   Even though the history of the twelve women in West Virginia cannot be changed, their futures and the futures of countless other women, can have better outcomes.   The commitment to the Attorney General’s Anti –Violence Strategy by the West Virginia Coalition Against Domestic Violence, the Bureau of Prisons, the West Virginia Department of Corrections, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, the Lee Day Report Center and the West Virginia Division of Juvenile Services will spearhead the change envisioned by U.S. Attorney Ihlenfeld. In addition, the West Virginia effort includes outreach to high school students.  Planned programs include former female inmates sharing their experiences. These are important steps.   We have learned that to be effective in preventing violence and abuse in our homes and communities, a coordinated community response is an important factor for success.  The efforts underway in the Attorney General’s Anti-Violence Strategy in West Virginia for training, education and public outreach – including those efforts targeting victims of domestic violence and at-risk youth – offer all of us an opportunity to share resources and knowledge for providing services to those who need them, while at the same time holding perpetrators accountable. We remind all those in need of assistance, or other concerned friends and individuals, to call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE or the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE.

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