Recently, Buncombe County Justice Services and the Safety + Justice Challenge Community Engagement Workgroup hosted a special presentation and conversation on Justice Involved Women in Buncombe County: Pathways Into and Out of Jail. Representatives from the Vera Institute of Justice and the UNC Collaborative for Maternal & Infant Health presented findings from a recently published report on women jailed in Buncombe County, shared insights about the ramifications of the Dignity for Women Who are Incarcerated Act, and hosted a Q&A session for the nearly 50 community members in attendance, including District Court Judge Julie Kepple.
Representatives from the Vera Institute of Justice spoke to the need to reevaluate cash bail requirements and how poverty affects incarcerated women. Cash bail requirements in Buncombe County have increased over time with the average bail for women in 2020 at $6,700, compared to $5,550 in 2019. Jennifer Peirce, a representative from Vera, summarized the frustration many women face due to the demands of ongoing supervision, “one slipup can land you back in jail for relatively minor things.”
The study noted pretrial, probation, and parole violations were 4 of the top 10 charges driving average daily prison population, and these violations tend to lead to longer jail stays. Failure to pay supervision fees, fees for drug tests, failure to attend certain required classes, unreliable transportation for supervision meetings, specific housing requirements, and a lack of childcare can lead to violations and arrests.
Megan Scull Williams, of the UNC Collaborative for Maternal and Infant Health explained the details and requirements of Dignity for Women Who are Incarcerated Act, and how it applies to all prison and jail facilities in North Carolina. The law limits the reasons why a pregnant incarcerated person can be put in restrictive confinement, and ensures the necessary prenatal, labor, and delivery care as needed at no cost to the pregnant incarcerated person. The law also expands opportunities for contact visits between mothers and their young children for those held in low- or minimum-security facilities. The presentation highlighted the need for more understanding and training for healthcare and corrections officers on postpartum health concerns and warning signs. Williams stated, “More than half of pregnancy-related maternal deaths occur after delivery.”
Presenters and audience members highlighted the need for increased collaboration and interagency communication between justice services, judges, police, healthcare providers, and community members. Brent Bailey, the Program Coordinator for the Buncombe County Re-entry Council welcomed all attendees to get involved by applying to be a paid member of the Community Engagement Workgroup. “We are looking for people. And we will continue to meet as we try to get some of these recommendations implemented,” Bailey stated.” It’s we. We need more people at the table… The County is committed to this by saying we appreciate you and your time.”
Aaron Sarver of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department and Buncombe County Detention Facility supervisors invited attendees to schedule a tour of the Buncombe County Detention Facility. “Anybody who wants the tour, we spend a lot of time and effort touring people through the facility…I think that’s a big part of what Sheriff Miller has stressed is letting people see inside for themselves, ask questions nothing is off limits,” said Sarver.
Interested candidates for the Community Engagement Workgroup can submit an email of interest to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Find the Vera Institute of Justice full report and the fact sheet at https://www.vera.org/publications/womens-pathways-jail-buncombe-county .
This event was sponsored by the MacArthur Foundation's Safety and Justice Challenge. To watch the entire presentation, follow this link https://youtu.be/VqJ75_dmAJ0. To learn more about the Safety & Justice Challenge in Buncombe County, click here.