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Opinion/Editorial: Women’s prison plan may be solution

Opinion/Editorial: Women’s prison plan may be solution

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The idea sounds good.

Its implementation will be the telling factor, however.

Virginia prison officials have decided to move all women inmates to three prisons in the central part of the state to create a more unified administrative system geared toward women’s needs.

One of those prisons is the Fluvanna Correctional Center for Women.

Male and female inmates will be shifted from some other facilities to effect the transition, which is proposed to be completed by Nov. 4.

The Fluvanna prison has for years been under a judge’s order to bring its medical services up to par. Advocates for inmates even have had to go back to court to argue that the judge’s mandated standards of care were not being implemented as ordered.

Three women have died at Fluvanna just this summer, reports the Virginian-Pilot.

One of them was a woman with a serious medical condition who was due to be released from prison next month. She had been at the center of an earlier legal dispute over the quality of her care.

Lawyers with the Charlottesville-based Legal Aid Justice Center had filed an emergency motion on her behalf to try to ensure that she received proper care. They alleged that her care had been mismanaged by FCCW on several occasions.

While it remains unclear whether her death was hastened by inadequate care, her case exemplifies the kinds of problems for which the Fluvanna prison has been criticized.

In another case, a woman died in her cell because staff were too “casual” about responding to her emergency, lawyers said.

A judge agreed earlier this year that the state Department of Corrections was not meeting eight of the 22 standards it was ordered to achieve according to a 2016 settlement. (The state is appealing that decision.)

Against this background, then, the DOC’s laudable intention could be to move women inmates into closer proximity so that it can improve its ability to safely supervise them.

Its plan calls for trauma- informed care training for staff, and for peer support services for offenders. It also intends to offer more vocational training opportunities for women.

And eventually it envisions offering day care for women whose children will be no older than 18 months at the time of their release from prison; creating centers where inmates can learn life skills such as banking and employment, and even providing facilities for overnight visits with family.

Reorganizing the prison system so that women’s facilities will be located in relatively close proximity — Fluvanna, Goochland and Chesterfield counties — may provide opportunities to better coordinate programs specifically for women. A DOC news release doesn’t go into much detail; however, training staff to provide “trauma informed care” might be a reference to the fact that women inmates often also were victims — of sexual abuse or other forms of exploitation. If staff are better trained to understand the physical, mental and emotional damage of such experiences, perhaps the state’s treatment of women in incarceration will improve.

The news release doesn’t refer to the problem of poor health care for women at Fluvanna — or at other women’s facilities, for that matter.

But acceptance of the need to upgrade women’s prisons in this regard, as well as others, appears implicit.

The limited details that so far have been shared by the department seem to describe an ambitiously revamped program that takes into account the real needs of women inmates and their families. That is a positive development.

But these intentions rely on implementation to give them life. How well the department translates them into reality will tell us if the program is successful — and if it truly does improve the sad plight of women in Virginia’s prisons.

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