AUSTIN, Texas — Fifty-three-year-old Annette Price visits prisoners every week in hopes that sharing their stories gives them hope.
“I don’t just share the good, I share the good and the bad,” she said. “I give them a positive note that you made a mistake, but you can get out of it, too. It’s going to be hard, it’s going to be a lot of challenges.”
"If they stay the path and get the support that they need, that they, too, have a healthy life after incarceration," Price continued.
Price thinks they really listen, because she has seen life through their eyes. She was incarcerated when she was 20 years old and expecting.
“It’s like your cage. You have no dignity, you lose all your respect, and you just feel like you’re in this crowded world and nobody is listening,” Price said.
And life after has not been easy.
“My conviction is like 32 years old and I’m still where it’s hard for me to find housing. So that was a huge, huge barrier, as well as (being a barrier to) employment,” Price said.
Now, she is working with advocates and nonprofits so other women do not have to go through what she has been through.
In a report released Thursday by the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition, the female prison populated in Texas increased 980 percent from 1980 to 2016. More 430 women answered a survey which included questions about prior victimization, substance abuse, poverty and motherhood. A majority said they are mothers, are living with a mental illness or experienced physical or sexual trauma before incarceration.
“You have the caregivers, more often the sole providers for children being incarcerated for offenses that seem to be really directly related to their experiences of victimization,” said Lindsey Linder, a policy attorney for the Texas Criminal Justice Coalition.
The group is now urging policymakers to respond to women’s needs and address the issues that lead women to prison. Recommendations are focused on pretrial diversion for non-violent offenders, community level support for those living with trauma, and specialized treatment for women on probation. They’re also would like to see reforms to the bail system and more programming for those with drug offenses.
“Once folks come into contact with the system, it’s so easy to continue to escalate in the system,” Linder said. “It’s really not the appropriate place for mental health care, it’s not the appropriate place for counseling, it’s not the appropriate place for substance abuse treatment, and so really controlling that front door and trying to keep these issues in the community is critically important.”
The report is based on data from the Texas Department of Criminal Justice, which manages the state’s prisons. They tell Spectrum News they have not had an opportunity to fully review the report in order to make a comment prior to the publication of this story.