BLOOMINGTON — A statewide task force working to reduce the number of incarcerated women in Illinois will hold a forum this week in Bloomington to discuss the needs of such women and solutions to the problems that contribute to their legal issues.
The Illinois Women's Justice Task Force of Illinois, the League of Women Voters and the YWCA McLean County will host a "community listening and recommendations session" from noon to 2 p.m. Wednesday at the YWCA, 1201 N. Hershey Road, Bloomington.
The event is free and open to the public.
McLean County Circuit Judge Rebecca Foley, regional co-chair of the 100-woman task force, will join panelists Kara Alt and Vera Trave, of the YWCA, Heather Canuel, owner of Heather's Parlor, and Cassy Taylor, director of McLean County Probation and Court Services. Laurie Bergner with the League of Women Voters will moderate the discussion. Local service providers, law enforcement and formerly incarcerated women are among other scheduled speakers.
The listening session is the first of three events planned in the state to gather input on existing services and future needs for female ex-offenders.
According to the institute, 98 percent of women enter prison with a history of physical and sexual abuse, and are likely to be behind bars for "crimes of survival," such as drug and property crimes or offenses linked to an abusive relationship.
The task force is developing a seven-year plan to reduce the state's female population that totaled 2,335 last year. According to the Department of Corrections, Illinois saw its highest female population in November 2000 when 2,976 were in state custody — a sharp contrast to the 373 women in Illinois prisons in 1975.
The multi-faceted plan to support female offenders includes help for the families they leave behind when their role as caretakers is interrupted. An estimated 80 percent of female inmates are mothers. Female inmates at Logan Correctional Center, the state's largest women's facility, are mothers to some 3,700 children, according to the institute.
Locally, the McLean County jail opened a new unit this year for female offenders as part of the $39 million addition to the existing detention facility. As part of their transition back to the community, women receive a resource guide compiled by Dawn Beichner, professor of criminal justice sciences at Illinois State University, and graduate students. Beichner is co-chair of the state task force's working group looking at issues facing women before, during and after incarceration.