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David Jenkins: Esther House is step in the right direction
On Thursday, Mission Missouri officially launched The Esther House, a 16-bed recovery housing wing for women, filling a much-needed void in the area.
For 16 years, Mission Missouri provided recovery housing for men while there were no recovery housing services for women in Sikeston or the immediate area, with the closest being Recycling Grace in Poplar Bluff. And of course since there is a need in the area, places like Recycling Grace have a waiting list and is tough to get into.
But it isn’t just a problem in Southeast Missouri, it is a problem all across the country. While a higher rate of men than women are incarcerated in the US, they also have a much higher rate of recovery help, as sometimes women are an after thought.
According to a study by Prison Policy Intiative, nationwide, women’s state prison populations grew 834% over nearly 40 years — more than double the pace of the growth among men.
While Oklahoma has the highest rate of incarcerated women, Missouri is an alarming fifth.
Laura Krieger-Sample, an instructor at Southeast Missouri State University in the Department of Criminal Justice, Social Work and Sociology, spoke at Mission Missouri Thursday and had statistic after statistic of how women are often forgotten when it comes to recovery.
While the rate of women being incarcerated continues to increase, the number of diversion programs pales in comparison to what is offered for the men.
For example, in Wyoming, men have the option to go to all-male boot camps for first-time offenses, while the option is not available for women. So a man can go to a boot camp for six months while a woman, charged with the same crime, could serve six or more years in prison.
But as part of an even bigger problem is the need for recovery programs. According to Krieger-Sample, women are more likely to enter prison with a history of abuse, trauma and mental health problems then men. And mental health problems are often not diagnosed until after the woman is incarcerated.
Even after women are released from prison, they have a daunting task as many women’s prisons don’t meet the need or demand for vocational and educational program opportunities. And once released, women have a tougher time finding work, housing and financial support.
That is why The Esther House is such an important improvement in the community. Jane Pfefferkorn, director of Mission Missouri, said the program will include new approaches, like teaching life skills specific to the culinary arts. There will be an emphasis on spiritual growth along with employment readiness and direct connections with employers.
Women at The Esther House will also be in contact with a group called “Beauty for Ashes” which will empower the women to live free from past trauma.
“This will be a safe haven and a path to freedom,” Pfefferkorn said.
The Esther House will be taking their first residents in January and while it won’t solve all the problems that some young women face, it will be a much-needed step in the right direction.
“Communities must find a way to heal and this is a door that is opening for that healing to happen,” Pfefferkorn said.
David Jenkins is co-editor of the Standard Democrat.