New approach for keeping female offenders out of Ore. jails
MEDFORD, Ore. (AP) — Spending time in the Jackson County Jail was no deterrent for Brooke, who has been arrested 67 times.
“To me, it’s like a revolving door. It’s like Motel 6 — the light’s always on. And it’s easy,” she says.
The Mail Tribune has changed her name because she asked not to be identified.
Brooke says she didn’t quite believe a Jackson County Circuit Court judge who told her she’d been arrested 67 times. But then she looked herself up on medfordmugshots.com and saw dozens of jail booking photos.
“I went on Medford mugshots and I have so many pictures and it’s just like so embarrassing. It’s so embarrassing,” she says. “It’s not something I’m proud of.”
Brooke, 42, has been involved in the criminal justice system for decades. She has spent time in jail, the Hillcrest Youth Correctional Facility for juveniles and Coffee Creek Correctional Facility — Oregon’s prison for women in Wilsonville.
She has been charged with identity theft, theft, drug crimes, fourth-degree assault, burglary, being a felon in possession of weapons, bringing drug materials into correctional facilities and other crimes.
But Brooke’s probation officer wouldn’t give up on her.
Senior Deputy Parole and Probation Officer Tira Hubbard is a statewide trainer of a new criminal justice approach that takes into account the specific needs of female offenders, who often have different risks and needs than males.
Probation officers and the women’s prison have begun using a Women’s Risk/Needs Assessment, a survey form for female offenders that asks about everything from whether a woman makes less than $10,000 a year to whether she was sexually abused as a child.
“What we’ve heard from the women over and over and over again is, ‘I feel heard. This is the first time people have asked me questions that I really needed to answer to move forward in my life.’ We started realizing that their needs are incredibly different than the male offenders we’re working with,” Hubbard says.
Traditionally, the criminal justice system has used a gender-neutral approach that focused on eight risk factors, such as anti-social attitudes, negative peer associations and criminal history. But that approach was geared toward men’s biggest risk factors.
Researchers have identified 13 risk factors for women that provide a better prediction of whether a woman will commit another felony within the next three years.
“Their biggest risk factor is relationships,” Hubbard says, noting women are often drawn into criminal activity through their relationships with men.
Female offenders are more likely to suffer from mental health issues such as depression and anxiety, struggle with substance abuse, have unstable and unsafe housing, earn less money than men and be the primary parent of children, Hubbard says.
Often the victims of domestic violence and sexual abuse, female offenders usually have a high rate of trauma. That can push them to take heroin or methamphetamine to cope with their feelings, she says.
Of approximately 200 risk-assessment surveys she’s completed with women, Hubbard says only two didn’t have a history of trauma.
But while relationships are a risk factor for women, they also can be a plus.
“Women are more relational in nature,” Hubbard says. “They connect and they bond. That’s part of my approach with them as their P.O. is that we build connection. Because if they’re connected to me and we have a relationship, this is more of a partnership. I get more buy-in from them because we’re doing this together.”
Brooke says she normally doesn’t get along well with her probation officers. She says she has a file several inches thick that contains a history of sanctions she’s received for probation violations.
“When she met me, Tira just closed my file and threw it away. She said, ‘We’re starting fresh,’ ” Brooke says.
She adds, “I just felt like a weight’s been lifted, and like maybe this was a P.O. that I could work with. And it turned out she was one of my best supporters.”
After years of heroin and methamphetamine use, Brooke has been clean for six months.
She is taking the medication Suboxone, which helps patients overcome opioid addiction, and is attending sessions at Phoenix Counseling.
A downward spiral
Court records show Brooke had a handful of criminal cases until 2002, when she lost custody of her 2-year-old son.
After that, she racked up dozens of criminal cases, with her most recent stemming from an accusation of third-degree theft in May 2017.
Back in 2002, Brooke suspected her home had been broken into and called the police. At the time, she says she was only using marijuana. But she says police found a torch tip, accused her of using meth and took her to jail.
Meth users sometimes use small, handheld torches to heat meth, which produces smoke that users inhale.
Charges of drug possession, endangering the welfare of a minor and initiating a false report to police were later dismissed, court records show.
But Brooke says she flipped out when she lost her son and made a threat to bomb a building. Her son was placed with a stranger who eventually adopted him. Brooke says she had no idea who had her son, or whether he was being treated well.
“It just killed something inside of me as a person, and you just don’t get that back,” she says. “And I just didn’t have a desire. I didn’t care if I got in trouble. I was on the streets. I didn’t care if I went to jail. Jail doesn’t bother me. With people with attitudes like that, they’re going to just keep going back unless they get motivated.”
Brooke says she couldn’t do anything that reminded her of the son she’d lost.
“When I lost my son, I couldn’t be around anybody that had kids,” she says. “I couldn’t go to restaurants because there was kids. I couldn’t do anything that had to do with kids. I couldn’t watch cartoons. I had to block my life off for years like that because it affected me so bad.”
Brooke says she turned to heroin to dull the pain.
She later had another son, who was taken from her soon after she gave birth to him.
“I went through the heartache all over again of losing a second one. But it wasn’t as bad because they took him right out of the hospital and I didn’t have a connection with him,” Brooke says.
Her only consolation was that her second son went to the same family that had adopted her first son. While the first adoption was closed, the second was open. Brooke met the woman who was raising her sons and found they were living in a good home.
After a slew of criminal cases, most involving drugs, Brooke was sent to Oregon’s prison for women.
“It’s like as soon as those doors close, the outside world doesn’t exist. You’ve got your lifers in there, and you’ve got people you know from home in there,” she says.
Brooke says she had been riding her bicycle and got hit by a car before she was sent to prison. With $4,000 from a settlement in her prison account, she says she lived relatively comfortably there. Because she doesn’t like to live with large groups of people, she refused to transfer from her own cell in maximum security to the dorm-like setting of minimum security.
Once Brooke was released, she had little incentive to stay clean and went back to using drugs.
“I almost went back to prison. You have a schedule. You have a routine you know. It was safe. It was comfortably uncomfortable because I can adapt to my surroundings,” she says.
Back in Jackson County, Brooke had few options. She had been kicked out of a homeless shelter and couldn’t go there. The Jackson County Transition Center, which provides a place for certain offenders to live while they work and get their lives back on track, also wouldn’t take her because she’d previously brought contraband drugs into the facility.
In the last year and a half, Brooke says her occasional drug use became a daily habit. To avoid withdrawal symptoms, she had to carry heroin with her at all times and couldn’t plan any outings, such as camping trips, unless she had an adequate supply to carry her through.
Brooke had seen other people withdrawing from heroin, defecating in their pants and vomiting everywhere. She says the worst place to go through withdrawal is in jail.
Then Hubbard became Brooke’s probation officer.
Looking toward the future
It wasn’t always smooth sailing between the two.
Brooke says Hubbard was compassionate toward her and let her make a plan to gradually get off drugs. But when she started veering off track, Hubbard stepped in and had her spend time in jail.
“She’s going to throw me in jail if she thinks she needs to save my life,” Brooke says. “And that’s effective. There were times when I really needed to go to jail.”
Hubbard says working as a probation officer involves a balancing act. Sometimes she is meeting women in her office, acting almost like a counselor. At other times, she has to put on her bullet-proof vest, badge and weapons, and go out and arrest them.
“Probation officers have unique jobs in that we are both officers and advocates,” Hubbard says. “We have these dual roles. So half of my job is surveillance — catching people. The other half of my job is keeping them from doing things in the first place. I would much rather spend more time keeping people from doing things than catching them doing things.”
Hubbard says she tries to show support for the women on probation, while not being gullible. She tells them she believes they can succeed, and if they aren’t doing well, they have to work together to figure out why.
“That doesn’t necessarily mean I believe them, but I believe in them,” she says.
Hubbard says women who get out of jail and prison face many hurdles. Many have a checkered rental history, and especially with today’s tight housing market, end up couch surfing or sleeping in cars.
Some women are trying to balance finding a job with childcare and drug and alcohol treatment. They have to ride the bus to their appointments if they have no driver’s license, no insurance and no car, Hubbard says.
Those trying to rebuild their lives often go through a grieving process as they cut ties with friends who cause trouble. At the same time, their family members may be distrustful, doubting the women really have changed, Hubbard says.
“It creates lots of loneliness for women,” she says.
They often suffer from guilt and shame, as well as post-traumatic stress disorder, Hubbard says.
“These women have done bad things, and a lot more bad things have been done to them,” she says. “So they are survivors in that they have made choices to survive in their life.”
As for Brooke, she says Hubbard’s belief in her is what made the difference.
“With her I’ve succeeded and I want to make her proud of me because she did go over and beyond what she needed to do,” Brooke says.
After years of drug addiction, she says she is happy to finally be off heroin.
Brooke says she always had a goal to be sober by the time her first son, now 17, turns 18. She hopes when he reaches that age, he will come looking for her.
“That was a goal I’ve set, and that’s a goal I’ve made,” she says.
Information from: Mail Tribune, http://www.mailtribune.com/