UT Health Science Center program helps incarcerated women avoid returning to prison

SAN ANTONIO (Jan. 16, 2007) ― Empowering incarcerated women to make positive changes in their lives that keep them from returning to prison was the topic of a national workshop presented recently by Mickey L. Parsons, Ph.D., M.H.A., R.N.

Dr. Parsons is an associate professor in the Department of Acute Nursing Care and coordinator of the graduate administration program at The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio.

The associate professor presented data from her social action research project at a national summit sponsored by the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives in Los Angeles.

Majority of Welcome Home Ministries women did not return to jail
Dr. Parsons and the Rev. Carmen Warner-Robbins, M.S.N., R.N., M.A.T., F.A.A.N., founder and director of Welcome Home Ministries, presented the success of the project:

• Eight years after their release, 87 percent of 21 formerly incarcerated women who volunteered in the Welcome Home Ministries participatory action research study in California made significant changes in their lives that kept them from returning to jail.

• Even more significant, 76 percent of those women have become peer leaders in Welcome Home to help other female prisoners make the transition to a healthy lifestyle after their time behind bars was complete.

Nationally, most prisoners rearrested within three years of release
The Department of Justice reports that more than 698,000 inmates were released from federal and state prisons in 2005 (the most recent statistics available). More than two-thirds of returning inmates will be rearrested within three years of their release from prison. This summit addressed the tremendous human needs associated with recidivism by bringing together federal, state and local decision-makers with non-governmental organizations to promote jobs, transitional housing, education, substance abuse treatment, positive mentoring relationships and other transitional services.

Social action research empowers people to make changes
Welcome Home Ministries was begun in 1998 as a joint project between Dr. Parsons and the Rev. Warner-Robbins, who were former nursing colleagues. Rev. Warner-Robbins was just finishing her master’s degree in theology and Dr. Parsons needed a project for her post-doctoral fellowship in community-based interventions. They combined their interests and passions to help others, with funding from a National Institute of Nursing Research and Prison Fellowship Ministries.

“Social action research is research with the goal of empowering people to make changes,” Dr. Parsons explained. Warner-Robbins developed the ministry portion of the project and Dr. Parsons provided the mechanism to guide the prisoners through the process of change. “It’s basically teaching them to fish,” Dr. Parsons explained, referring to the old adage: “Give a man a fish and he will eat for a day. Teach him how to fish and he will eat for a lifetime.”

Dr. Parsons guided the prisoners through a process so that they could:
• Create a plan to avoid previous pitfalls and develop healthy lives upon their release
• Develop friendships to form a support network
• Contact community leaders to assist them with the transition to freedom by providing key services, such as transportation, housing and job opportunities
• Set up a monthly support group outside of prison to help them stay on track with their goals
• Eventually take on the leadership of Welcome Home Ministries so that they could provide help and support other women prisoners as they leave prison

Most Welcome Home Ministries prisoners not a threat to society
“One of the things we learned with Welcome Home is that these women were generally not a threat to society,” Dr. Parsons said. “Most of them had been abused or neglected throughout their lives and had no way to change their circumstances. Many were drug users in order to escape from their sad situations. The goal of our project was to give them the tools they needed so that they could change their lives themselves. And our results proved that the process has been successful in facilitating the creation of healthy lives and the development of peer leaders.”

White House Office praises program
“The challenges that face returning prisoners are so great that government can’t solve this issue [of recidivism] on its own,” said Jay Hein, director of the White House Office of Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, who also presented at the summit. “Dedicated faith-based and community nonprofits provide what the government cannot: personal engagement, real hope and a fresh vision for life. It’s the caring touch of groups like these that often makes the critical difference between returning to crime and a new start.”

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The University of Texas Health Science Center at San Antonio is the leading research institution in South Texas and one of the major health sciences universities in the world. With an operating budget of $576 million, the Health Science Center is the chief catalyst for the $15.3 billion biosciences and health care sector in San Antonio’s economy. The Health Science Center has had an estimated $35 billion impact on the region since inception and has expanded to six campuses in San Antonio, Laredo, Harlingen and Edinburg. More than 22,000 graduates (physicians, dentists, nurses, scientists and allied health professionals) serve in their fields, including many in Texas. Health Science Center faculty are international leaders in cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, aging, stroke prevention, kidney disease, orthopaedics, research imaging, transplant surgery, psychiatry and clinical neurosciences, pain management, genetics, nursing, allied health, dentistry and many other fields.



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