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March 18, 2011

CONTACT: Peter Van Delft
(617) 704-6682


(L to R) Erika Kates, Ph.D, of the Wellesley Centers for Women; Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral; Massachusetts State Representative Kay Khan; and Dawn Coleman, former participant of the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars Program. (photograph by Diane Hammer of Simmons College).

Sheriff Andrea J. Cabral recently participated on a special panel assembled by Simmons College as part of the school’s 14th Annual International Women’s Day Breakfast celebration.

Held on the 100th anniversary of the holiday’s inception, the panel discussion focused on the topic, “Unequal Treatment Under the Law: Women In the Criminal Justice System.”

Along with Sheriff Cabral, panelists included Massachusetts State Representative Kay Khan; Erika Kates, Ph.D, of the Wellesley Centers for Women; and Dawn Coleman, former participant of the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars Program.

Moderated by host and executive producer of WCVB-TV’s "CityLine" Karen Holmes Ward, the program was commenced by Diane Hammer, Director of the Simmons Institute for Leadership and Change, who spoke to the event’s 150–plus attendees about the significance of the day and the challenges that persist for women around the globe.

“International Women’s Day gives us a chance to join hands with women around the globe and to focus attention on issues women face,” said Hammer. “Organizations around the world are celebrating 100 years of International Women’s Day.”

“There are many issues facing women and girls,” Hammer continued. “And we know that improving the lives of women and girls is the single, most effective way to improve the lives of families and communities. Coming together on this day reminds us that we need to continue to take action.”

Speaking about the significant changes and improvements that she has made for the women in her care, custody and control at the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department, Sheriff Cabral stressed the importance of a gender–centric approach as a key to successful re–entry into the community for female ex–offenders.

“When I first came to the Department eight years ago, it was easy to see the inequality between incarcerated males and females,” said Sheriff Cabral. “There were lower numbers of incarcerated women then and they were just plugged into the same program models used for males, and they received fewer opportunities for recreation and programming than males.”

“I moved to create gender specific programming for female inmates and detainees because they present with different challenges than their male counterparts,” Sheriff Cabral said. “We enacted a four–phased program to deal with their histories of trauma, domestic violence, sexual violence and managing anger. Even the pretrial women who are with us for a short time receive some of this programming because we want to ensure that nobody leaves our facilities empty handed and not knowing where they can go for services when they get out.”

Speaking as a living example of the positive impact that gender specific programming can have on the lives of incarcerated women, Dawn Coleman recounted her experience as a former South Middlesex Correctional Center inmate who had the opportunity to participate in the Girl Scouts Beyond Bars program, which works to rebuild the bond between mothers and daughters through monthly troop meetings held at correctional facilities.

“The Girl Scouts Behind Bars Program is so important because it teaches girls values and allows incarcerated mothers to maintain their relationship with their children and it’s a positive influence,” said Coleman. “When mothers go to jail initially, girls can become confused that their prominent role model is making mistakes. It can lessen the value of that person in their eyes. But, I’ve learned that a mistake is never really a mistake unless you fail to see the lesson behind it.”

As the event drew to a close with a thought–provoking session of questions and answers, the common theme expressed was about the need for more preventative programming and the importance of continuing the conversation about women in the criminal justice system.

“This is a great opportunity to talk about something that is not sufficiently recognized,” said Erika Kates, Ph.D. of the Wellesley Centers for Women. “The United States incarcerates more people and more women in particular, than any other country in the world. We need to provide more alternatives to incarceration.”

“I think we need to invest in more substance abuse prevention and treatment,” agreed Representative Kahn. “But, I am pleased to know about the Suffolk County Sheriff’s Department programs. In addition to prevention, we also need to support other facilities to help them to make similar changes.”

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