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Moms Released from Massachusetts Prison Decry Dearth of Help

Crystal Hinson’s journey back into society in April 2023 after release from the Massachusetts Correctional Institution (MCI) in Framingham exemplifies the biggest challenge often faced by women leaving prison: reuniting with their children.

Leaving MCI-Framingham, the state’s only women’s lockup, former prisoners encounter challenges in some ways worse than those for men, including higher rates of drug abuse, psychiatric disorders, poverty and trauma. Before incarceration, women in prison were also often primary caretakers for children, who then struggle while their mom is locked up. Data indicate that formerly incarcerated women return to prison at a rate similar to men—about 30%—while those with children need stable housing to regain custody.

Despite a high percentage of imprisoned women with minor children—about 58% nationwide—advocates point to a glaring lack of state and local support for them. Many women report domestic and sexual violence prior to incarceration, so returning “home” can be dangerous. Many more say they receive inadequate institutional support upon release, relying on cash-strapped nonprofits, if they get any support at all.

The state Department of Correction (DOC) has a program, Credible Messengers, which pairs pre-release prisoners with released mentors to coach them. Hinson, 41, found a program mentor, but without a job—and with a criminal record making it hard to find one—she had little hope of securing housing to regain custody of her four kids. She was skeptical when she first heard about the Stable Housing and Reintegration Program (SHARP) run by a local nonprofit, Justice 4 Housing.

“I said, ‘Don’t waste your time. Don’t waste my time. I’ve tried to get housing before I was ever a convicted felon,’” she recalled. “Because I had minor court cases, misdemeanors, they wouldn’t allow me to receive housing.”

But for six months, despite having no car, she stuck with the program, successfully juggling appointments and court hearings, sometimes staying in risky situations before she won approval for a Dorchester apartment that she now shares with her two youngest children.

“I missed a lot—they’ve gone through a lot,” she said. “I have no other chances. They don’t have anybody other than me.”

She is one of just 71 women that Credible Messengers has helped since it started in 2021, and one of only 29 aided by SHARP since its 2022 launch—a small fraction of the nearly 500 prisoners released from MCI-Framingham every year. The numbers for men aren’t much better; only 246 have been mentored by Credible Messengers and another 45 helped by SHARP, while state prisons released 4,372 men in 2022 alone.  


Sources: AP News, WGBH

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