Incarcerated females face own set of obstacles

Marlena Hartz: Freedom Newspapers

By Marlena Hartz
If Renee Jurado weren’t sentenced to spend six months behind the concrete walls of the Curry County Adult Detention Center, she said she would probably be snorting cocaine or smoking methamphetamine.

“It’s better for me to be in here right now. I’m not ready to be out — there’s too much temptation,” said Jurado, a small-framed mother of four, an inmate serving a sentence at CCADC for the second time.

For more than a decade, Jurado said she has been using drugs.

When she gave birth to her first son, she was just 18. She dropped out of high school. The relationship with the father of her eldest son, now 18, quickly deteriorated. And her dependence on drugs deepened.

Jurado, 36, said she paid for cocaine and other drugs by shoplifting clothes and selling them to friends. Unable to pay related fines, she found herself incarcerated for the first time. Shortly after she served her sentence, Jurado landed back in jail for contributing to the delinquency of a minor and a probation violation. She has served two months of her six-month sentence.

She is not alone.

There were 26 female inmates housed in one pod of the Curry County Adult Detention Center a on recent late-November afternoon. Located about 20 miles away, the Roosevelt County Detention Center housed 12 female inmates. Those numbers fluctuate daily, but a larger trend remains. According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics, the number of women in jail nearly tripled from 1985 to 1996.
Local jail officials also report a sharp incline in women prisoners.

A decade ago, the Curry County jail housed an average of less than 10 women; Roosevelt County, less than eight, according to jail officials. Now, women in bright, orange jail uniforms are common jail residents, accounting for about 10 percent of the population in Roosevelt and Curry County jails.

“It all boils down to drugs,” said Curry County assistant administrator Larry Sanders, a pair of handcuffs dangling from his belt.

Nearly 80 percent of women in the Curry County jail are there on drug-related charges; about 60 percent are repeat offenders, Sanders said.

“We see the same faces over and over again. It’s like a revolving door,” Curry County Undersheriff Doug Bowman said. “Law enforcement and social services can only do so much. My opinion — a person has to want to help themselves first. Until then, there’s not a lot we can do.”

Her face pressed closely to the grated door of the Curry County women’s pod, Lisa Velasquez, also 36, faulted the corrections system for her repeated incarceration.

“My biggest complaint is there is no rehabilitation. We don’t have any skills, we don’t have a trade. All (jail) does is teach you how to be a better criminal,” said Velasquez, her once shoulder-length, brown hair shorn close to her head because she was infected with lice while incarcerated, she said.

Velasquez, fiery and well-spoken, said she scuttled over the Texas border regularly to make a living committing white-collar crimes, mostly credit card fraud. She said she enrolled in a community college, but never completed her degree.

Her days in jail aren’t bringing her closer to that faraway goal.

Velasquez and many of the women in the Curry County jail pace back and forth, or sit for hours, in the common area, a barren space with a few tables. They spend most of the day there — playing cards or braiding hair, according to inmates. Some prefer to spend time alone, in their cells drawing or reading until the guards announce lights out.

They are afforded an hour of recreation time per day, in the same enclosed area the men use, which is equipped with a basketball hoop. Church ministers visit the facility and hold services in rotating pods frequently, Sanders said. No women currently are on work-release, he said.

Inmates aren’t allowed to wear makeup or use hair ties. So they are crafty. They wrap parts of latex gloves around braid ends and pony tails. They trace dark lines under their eyes with colored pencils softened by faucet water. For lipstick, some use Kool-Aid mix.

Sanders held a gold ring, lined with masking tape, and a white hair tie in his hands. These items, he explained, are contraband — not allowed within the pod. “She put this tape around here so the ring would fit her. Somebody would fight her to get this ring,” Sanders said. Hair ties, he said, are often used to fling notes and other contraband back and forth between cells. Jail rules — the newest bans soda — are made to keep inmates and jail employees safe, Sanders said.

It isn’t lack of creature comforts, however, which wear hardest on many women in jail. Most seem consumed by time spent away from their children and other family members.

Jurado corresponds with her four children through letters, but she rarely sees them. Underage children of CCADC inmates are allowed to visit a parent once a month, but they must be accompanied by an adult, and also must give jail officials a week prior notice of their intent to visit, jail officials said.

“I always think about my kids,” Jurado said.

She left them in the care of her mother, who owns a small cleaning company Jurado hopes to work for when she gets out of jail.

Though social service and law enforcement officials prefer to see inmates’ children cared for by capable relatives, sometimes law officials have no choice but to place them in foster homes, said Children, Youth and Families Department Curry County Office Manager Sherel Whited.

“There is a tremendous amount of grief and loss (for inmates’ children),” Whited said.

A jail visit can be more traumatic than helpful depending on the child’s age and state of mind, Whited said. “When children are taken (to the jail), they cannot touch their parents. They see their parents behind a sheet of glass. It is not a healthy, inducive environment,” said Whited, who arranges visits between mothers and children at CYFD when possible.

The burden of primary care rarely rests on male inmates, according to National Institute of Corrections studies.
Women are less likely to misbehave in jail than men and expect jail staff to be more receptive of their physical and emotional needs, according to the NIC Web site, www.nicic.org.

Yet the correctional system, for the most part, treats male and female inmates equally, according to NIC studies and local jail officials.

Within the Curry County jail, male and female inmates are separated at all times, jail officials said. Female guards perform strip searches and pat down female inmates.
These are exceptions. Security procedures and inmate rules are uniform between sexes at the jail, officials said.

That can be a problem, according to the National Institute of Corrections. “Women are normally housed in a women’s unit that is often designated as an afterthought inside facilities designed mainly for men. The strict separation of male and female inmates also exacerbates housing and program shortages,” the study concludes.

In August, Clarence Palmer became the case manager at the Community Corrections Program. It is one of the only programs of its kind in Curry County, designed for recently released inmates who are sexual offenders or substance abusers, or need anger management or parenting classes.

The few women who do participate in the program usually fall into one category — the substance abuser, Palmer said.
“The goal is to try to turn these people around,” Palmer said.
Because the six-month long program is so new, he doesn’t know yet if it will be successful.

Some community members question the effectiveness of the corrections system altogether.

Sandra Smith believes a drug rehabilitation center would alleviate the burgeoning jail population. Smith, the wife of a county commissioner and an active church member, wants to see a drug rehabilitation center built in an isolated section of the county, with males and females housed in separate facilities. She has attended information sessions within the state and lobbied for the center repeatedly.

The current correctional system is eating up local time and money, Smith said.

“Being in jail doesn’t help (inmates) get off drugs. It doesn’t fix the problem,” Smith said, who compares the current system to a hospital full of doctors who do not diagnose their patients.

“You don’t treat every one in the hospital the same. You have to figure out what the problem is, instead of lumping everyone in the same place,” Smith said.

Smith did not always have compassion for inmates. Until she realized how massive an epidemic drug use — methamphetamine use in particular — was becoming in the area.

And finding drugs inside jail is even easier than on the streets, said inmate Tina LeClear. The former methamphetamine addict spent three months in a Lubbock rehab center, in lieu of serving time — a privilege provided at a judge’s discretion, jail officials said.

When the rehab center shut down due to lack of funding, LeClear didn’t inform authorities. She was incarcerated as a fugitive of justice.

“My husband named it (meth) the devil’s candy. You turn away from everything,” said LeClear, who said she lost her nursing license due to possession of the drug and may spend four years in a state prison pending a December courtroom decision.