Proven program for women inmates is casualty of pandemic’s impact on state coffers

State to end contract for YWCA women’s halfway house

HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Since 2015, the YWCA of Oahu has operated a work furlough program for inmates from the Women’s Community Correctional Center.

They live at the Y’s Fernhurst facility, where they prepare to re-enter society.

“We help them with life skills coaching. We help them re-unite with their families,” said YWCA of Oahu CEO Noriko Namiki. “The biggest part of this program is job readiness. What’s the first thing you need when you come out of prison? Jobs.”

Program participants learn how to prepare work resumes and to dress for success.

Kepola Dudoit is a graduate.

"The women coming out of prison really need the resources. They really need this program to get back on their feet," she said.

The YWCA contracts with the state Department of Public Safety, but the agency is ending the contract at the end of the month.

"They said they just can't afford to have this program anymore," Namiki said.

A new contract would cost the state about $613,000 a year. The department said deep budget cuts caused by the coronavirus pandemic’s effect on the economy make it impossible to afford the program.

“PSD cannot absorb this expenditure given the amount of reduction in FY 2021,” said Toni Schwartz, the department’s public information officer.

Namiki hopes lawmakers find the money to keep the Fernhurst program going.

"Those people can make a difference. I really have to remain hopeful that they'll make the right choice," she said.

Fernhurst also operates a transitional housing program called Homebase for women who have completed their prison sentences.

Catherine Parker is in it.

"If it wasn't for this program I have no idea where I would have gone. I don't where I would be. The clean and sober houses over here they don't help you like this place does," she said.

Public Safety said a reduced inmate population at the women’s prison will allow it to accommodate the residents at Fernhurst. It’s keeping the door open for possible future discussions with the YWCA if the budget situation improves.

In the meantime it will lean more heavily on its own Project Bridge Program.

Schwartz said it's a "proven residential substance abuse reentry and furlough program within WCCC that's designed to assist female offenders" with social, cognitive and recovery skills while transitioning them to the community.

Dudoit feels that program isn't the same as what's offered transitioning inmates at Fernhurst.

"The women going back to the prison facility after a hard day of work to get strip-searched, get patted down. It's a powerless feeling," she said.

About 200 women have graduated from Fernhurst. Namiki said 84 percent of them have not gone back to prison.

Here’s the full statement on the program closure from the state Department of Public Safety:

The state is facing an unprecedented financial situation because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Due to the projected annual budget shortfalls resulting in deep budget cuts to PSD operations, difficult but temporary decisions have to be made that will help us get through this fiscal year.

Under the new solicitation, that would have been effective on July 1, 2020, the cost to continue the YWCA Fernhurst furlough contract to provide housing, access to support services in the community, and a meal plan for up to 14 female inmates for one year is $613,200. PSD cannot absorb this expenditure given the amount of reduction we face in FY 2021.

Since June 30, 2016, the female inmate population at the Women’s Community Correctional Center has been steadily decreasing and is below operational capacity with 212 inmates as of today’s count. WCCC can accommodate the remaining 6 women currently placed at YWCA and provide them with similar services in the Project Bridge program, without increasing operational cost or staffing.

The Project Bridge Program is a proven residential substance abuse reentry, furlough program within WCCC, designed to assist female offenders with opportunities to practice social learning, cognitive, and recovery skills in treatment while transitioning to the community. Family therapy, psychological services, job development/employment services, education and substance abuse after care treatment are provided as part of the transition process into the community.

We want to emphasis again; this is a temporary measure and it is not correct to say we are ending a furlough program. PSD has had a great relationship with YWCA for the past 20 years and we would like to keep the door open for future discussion and solicitation of services once we reassess our budget situation.

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