BLOOMINGTON — The impact of incarceration on women often extends far beyond them.
“The consequences can impact more than one generation of a family," said Judge Rebecca Foley, regional co-chair of the Women's Justice Institute's statewide task force to halve the female prison population within seven years.
Solutions to help justice-involved women were explored Wednesday at a forum sponsored by the task force, YWCA McLean County and the League of Women Voters.
Judges witness the cycle of harm among families, said Foley.
“There’s really no courtroom in this county that’s immune from the consequences of women — particularly mothers — who are incarcerated,” said Foley.
Mary Campbell, co-founder of Labyrinth Outreach Services to Women, said women's needs differ from those of their male counterparts in the justice system. Housing, mental health and employment are among the challenges women face as they also try to maintain the connection to their children, said Campbell.
Women, like onions, have layers, said Campbell, who retired from her role with the re-entry program in 2016 after a partnership was formed with the YWCA. As women peel away the layers of issues, "they get to the core of who they could have been had they been given the chance," she said.
Campbell is working to open a training center in Bloomington to help women enter the building trades.
Speakers offered possible solutions to the roadblocks that bar women from successful re-entry after prison.
McLean County Public Defender Carla Barnes suggested the jail consider a program to allow mothers contact visits with their children. When mothers are separated from children "the trauma is everlasting," said Barnes.
Heather Canuel, the last female inmate to give birth while shackled to a bed in the Department of Corrections before the practice ended, shared how community resources helped her gain the confidence to open a hair salon, The Parlor, in Bloomington.
She recalled receiving a bag of cosmetics from a Labyrinth volunteer when she lived at The Salvation Army.
"I felt like I could conquer things," Canuel said of the gift's impact.
Vera Travers knows about the hard work of overcoming a difficult past. Foster care, juvenile detention and homelessness were routine for Travers. Drug addiction contributed to the removal of her six children by the state.
"I had the opportunity to live two lifestyles in one lifetime," said Travers, who works as a case manager for Labyrinth. She credits drug treatment with saving her life.
Glen Austin, warden of Logan Correctional Center for women, said the goal of reducing the female population is realistic, given that 70 percent of women in the facility have less than two years to serve for non-violent offenses.
Ideas from the forum will be compiled and shared with the statewide task force.