Alabama Women's Resource Network
Alabama Women's Resource Network
- Southern Center for Human Rights, Atlanta , GA
- Alabama Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Montgomery, AL
- The Neighborhood House, Birmingham, AL
- UAB TASC, Birmingham, AL
Please note that all data below was derived from the collaboration's nomination for the Collaboration Prize. None of the submitted data were independently verified for accuracy.
The Alabama Women’s Resource Network (AWRN) is a coalition of incarcerated women, social justice organizations, community service providers, and advocates working together to build a movement to fundamentally change the way that the state responds to the problems facing women in Alabama. AWRN’s mission is to significantly reduce the number of women in prison by promoting investment in a statewide network of community programs that responsibly and effectively treat drug addiction, provide pathways out of domestic violence, develop job skills, and improve the physical and mental health of women.
One of AWRN's founding partners, the Southern Center for Human Rights (SCHR) has worked for 30 years to challenge the misuse of the criminal legal system to target and control people of color and poor people in the Deep South. In 2002, SCHR sued the state of Alabama over conditions of confinement at Tutwiler Prison for Women in a class action lawsuit Laube v. Allen. From the beginning of the litigation, all of AWRN's founding partners, including women in prison called the Longtimers, understood that the true goal was not to simply win the litigation and improve the day to day existence of the women locked inside Tutwiler Prison, but rather to win policy changes that will significantly reduce the number of women who are locked up at all. AWRN was created out of this commitment.
As stated in its mission, AWRN's intention is to reduce the number of women in prison by creating a network of community-based programs. This network is the foundation from which a movement can be built to sustainably reduce women’s imprisonment because members of AWRN's network share two premises: (1) they provide services or influence policies that actually (rather than just purport to) keep women out of prison, and (2) they support or embody racial justice and feminist principles.
The first premise, that they each provide services that keep women out of prison, allows the members to coalesce around a common goal that can be objectively measured. This common understanding of success is critical to movement building, since members of AWRN are entities that traditionally have not understood themselves as allies working on a common cause.
The second premise, that they share basic anti-racist and pro-feminist principles, allows AWRN to develop a more progressive politic among the service providers, government entities and individuals that make up the network. We consider this political development work a central tenet of movement building (i.e. a stronger voice), and believe the network is a good vehicle for it.
AWRN's founding partners--recognizing the need for a full-time staff member to truly formalize AWRN, better address the needs of the women AWRN serves, and carry out the actions the partners developed--set about securing funding to hire an employee for that purpose and funding for AWRN materials to advance the mission. With the hiring of AWRN's first staff member, the management structure was an AWRN Coordinator reporting to the AWRN Advisory Board (founding partners). This model has served the collaboration well and today, AWRN operates under a Director who reports to a Board of Directors comprised of representatives from AWRN's partner organizations, which is the same model.
The management structure supports strong, efficient information sharing among all of AWRN's stakeholders because AWRN's Board reflects the movement by including beneficiaries and service providers from different sectors. This way, all stakeholders stay informed of changes in areas impacting AWRN’s mission so AWRN may move quickly to address women’s needs. Further, AWRN is able to discuss the best means of addressing needs, such as should legal means be used, media campaigns, changes to service policies, etc.
Simply put, there is no way of knowing what challenge may come tomorrow and so having a sound collaborative culture focused on responsible action has been AWRN’s success. AWRN has met these challenges by developing ongoing consensus through partner meetings. AWRN hired a Director with experience in strategic planning and monitoring and evaluation, and AWRN’s partner representatives have contributed specialized skills such as litigation skills, clinical treatment experience, community organizing, and graphic design and PR. In short, the Board Members, beneficiaries, and volunteers of AWRN serve as AWRN staff as well, filling in gaps where needed as AWRN grows.
AWRN has traditionally tracked its impact through large action outcomes. For instance, from 2007-2009, AWRN was responsible for the formation of a legislative committee focused solely on women's imprisonment. In 2010, the committee became the permanent Alabama Commission on Girls and Women in the Criminal Justice System.
In 2009, AWRN began collecting quantitative and qualitative data to track its impact at the individual level. An example of AWRN's impact is AWRN's Parole Advocacy Team wherein AWRN trains volunteers from the community to visit women in prison for the purposes of developing their reentry plans and to present these reentry plans before the Parole Board on behalf of the prisoner. AWRN conducts this project through an agreement with the Alabama Department of Corrections. To date, AWRN's Parole Advocacy Team has gained over 50,000 Days of Freedom for imprisoned women, also saving the Alabama Department of Corrections close to $2M over the next 24 years alone.
AWRN collects human rights empowerment impact stories and vets them through the Most Significant Change process developed by Rick Davies. Additionally, AWRN collects individual surveys from public education event attendees, advocate trainees, women served, and partners.
AWRN has learned that in order to influence the reinvestment in communities versus imprisonment, AWRN must lead by example by tracking the same data used by the agencies it seeks to influence, demonstrating positive outcomes.
AWRN is an intersectoral collaboration that is dedicated to participatory methods. In addressing varied issues of civil rights and injustice, beneficiary involvement and leadership, along with intersectoral collaboration, is key to mission success. Even though AWRN's beneficiaries are behind bars, AWRN makes special effort to encourage and sustain the involvement of incarcerated women in AWRN's leadership and program operations.
From legal resources and expertise required, to community organizing, service provision, and legislative reforms, having a strong collaborative effort that can bring these varied resources and expertise to the table allows for not only a sustained effort, but for a sustained, positive impact. AWRN has every stakeholder base represented in its Board--from beneficiaries to service providers. Everyone has a voice in a participatory process that makes AWRN's programming and actions more effective, educated, and sustainable.
AWRN has heard repeatedly from women in prison, community members, agency leaders and lawmakers that AWRN stands apart in its approach to carrying out its mission and maintaining accountability. AWRN, through the Parole Advocacy Team and other advocacy events and news, continues to lead by example. AWRN does not sit by and complain about the need for disaggregated data to guide reform; instead, AWRN has begun collecting data in its programming and from other sources to reinforce its mission’s efficacy. AWRN’s statistical analysis has received praise from the Commissioner of the Alabama Department of Corrections for its sophistication.
AWRN does not rely on numbers and data alone; rather, AWRN points to the need for increased offender and ex-offender participation in the decision-making and program development process. AWRN also led by example in this area, not only facilitating focus groups for agency leaders, but real discussions the results of which continue to be remarked upon and seen in agency meetings and conversations with women in prison and lawmakers.
At the core of AWRN’s approach is an appreciation of understanding the context of AWRN’s mission through empirical, qualitative, and quantitative exploration. AWRN continues to find and build strength from the leadership of the women AWRN serves. The impact is that AWRN continues to see the success of an approach it has long valued and the approach will continue.
Overview of specific data collected (not exhaustive):
In-Kind Partner Services: AWRN coalition partners provide a range of in-kind services including: AWRN’s free office space and overhead ($12K annually); graphic design services ($5,000 annually); legal analysis ($15-$20K annually); and accounting and payroll support ($10K annually). In effect, a full-fledged organization has developed through the collaboration that otherwise would have had an insurmountable cost of time and/or money.
The AWRN Parole Advocacy Team Monitoring and Evaluation Database (daily information collection):
The database includes demographic and specific case information of women in prison, as well as information regarding their accomplishments and disciplinaries received in prison. In this way, AWRN’s partners are able to see review individual details of a woman’s time in prison in relation to the outcome of her parole (granted or denied) and her corresponding reentry plan. This allows AWRN’s partner organizations the ability to take the information gathered and use it to improve existing program within their own organizations and develop new programming to meet gaps in services.
To date, the AWRN Parole Advocacy Team has secured 79,261 Days of Freedom for women in Alabama through early parole and reentry planning. The savings to the State of Alabama, using a prisoner cost estimate of $41.47 per day (state provided figure), is $3.29 million over the next 24 years. AWRN, leading by example, is accruing the very evidence needed to advocate for reduced sentencing and expanded sentencing alternatives for low-risk women offenders.
Additionally, the database and all comparative knowledge gathered has been an incredible advocacy tool for women in prison. AWRN provides the database knowledge to the Alabama Department of Corrections and has presented some of the information to the Alabama Department of Pardons and Paroles to further illustrate not only women offenders’ low-risk to public safety (all women served since 2009 have not recidivated), but also the value gained by investing time to assist women in planning for reentry pre-release and money saved by granting parole.
Example Volunteer Involvement (not exhaustive):
One of the most devastating results of incarceration is that it effectively takes offenders out of society and limits civil society’s ability to be involved with offenders and support restorative justice and rehabilitation. AWRN’s programming has shown, again by example, the value of restorative approaches and has brought the lives of women in prison in Alabama out of the shadows and into public focus. Long term, public recognition of the social injustice of many aspects of incarceration will give way to public support for reforms that restore ex-offenders civil rights and support restorative justice and rehabilitation for all offenders.Example contributions: AWRN Parole Advocates contributed $1980 in travel and printing costs to work with women in prison, and 478 hours of volunteer time (2009); Public Education Event Panelists: $180 in travel and 43.35 hours in volunteer time (2009); Interns: $200 per month in travel and 648 hours (2009); Women’s Leadership Development Council members: 2 hrs per month in meeting time beginning in October 2009 to present (no survey yet conducted of outside time spent on AWRN activities).
Funding: By creating AWRN, AWRN partners have secured funding from multiple national donors to focus on reducing women’s imprisonment in Alabama—a specific funding search and allocation that would not have provided for the same population of beneficiaries otherwise. To date, AWRN has received over $150,000 from national donors alone. With Alabama’s women’s prison population have increased 1000% since the late 1970s, AWRN has been launched at a critical time for offender civil rights and specifically women offenders rights.
Knowledge Sharing: AWRN is a central storage and transfer point for information across sectors—corrections, non-profit organizations, and a law firm. A typical roundtable discussion and strategy meeting brings forth a wealth of sector-specific knowledge that honestly would not have otherwise been shared. Additionally and most importantly, the sector-specific information would have rarely been digested or considered with a gender-specific and responsive lens for the women offender population. This allows for each AWRN partner (sector) to make moves in its own areas of policy quickly, responsibly, and with an intersectional edge to its information and recommendations that is critical to effective advocacy.
Additionally, case managers and counselors located at the coalition partner organization (UAB Treatment Alternatives for Safer Communities/Jefferson County Community Corrections) where AWRN’s office is located have begun referring clients to AWRN for assistance regarding reentry and legal assistance. Also, AWRN has provided technical assistance to Prison Fellowship Ministries to support its replication of AWRN’s advocacy services for male prisoners at Bibb Correctional Facility.
AWRN also maintains a growing mail database that contains information on all women in prison who write to AWRN with notes of actions taken. In this way, AWRN provides assistance concerning everything from imprisoned women’s requests for help for their children, records storage and court records retrieval, agency policy information (how to seek earlier parole consideration, eligibility for community corrections, etc.), and housing resource lists. AWRN has gathered information on each of these areas in collaboration with AWRN members, including legal information specific to prison conditions and abuse.
Moreover, AWRN maintains a social media presence and blog, as well as distributes a monthly e-Newsletter that is received by upwards of 400 recipients each month. Subscribers include practitioners, community members, corrections and parole officials, legislators, and others.
Workshop and Curricula Development: The inability for prisoners to attend their parole hearings should not mean an end to self-advocacy and a sense of empowerment when it comes to one’s future. In addition to the work of AWRN’s Parole Advocacy Team, AWRN began offering workshops focused on reentry planning and parole hearing preparation for women in prison (taught inside the prisons) and for loved ones of prisoners in 2010. Next year, the workshops for women in prison will be expanded to include a full 8-week curriculum and workbook for each woman.
Each month, AWRN also receives all forms of communication from family members and loved ones of both male and female prisoners seeking to find out more information on a range of issues. Additionally, AWRN receives phone calls from all over the United States, including as far away as California, from people seeking to support their loved one who is incarcerated in Alabama’s state prisons. AWRN has given special consideration as to how best to answer their questions in an efficient manner and has developed plans for a series of ongoing workshops as a response.
The workshops provided to loved ones of prisoners (both male and female) present unprecedented information sharing to support the family reunification process and the collaborative development of reentry plans between prisoners and their loved ones. Moreover, loved ones gain knowledge specific to presenting before the Parole Board in order to make the most of the opportunity.
The workshops for families includes 7hrs of instructional time in a workshop format, a detailed handbook/workbook, a 99-day reentry planning journal for the person in prison, two meals, and as many follow-up calls as the family wishes to make to AWRN for ongoing support, etc.
To quantify workshops for loved ones of prisoners and prisoners themselves, consider the following: attorneys charge anywhere from $500-$1000+ to attend parole hearings. Since parole hearings are not court trials and since most attorneys AWRN has observed doing this do not know the families or the prisoners, AWRN considers this type of attorney “representation” very predatory and without merit. Additionally, the Parole Board has told AWRN that in the past, an organization charged upwards of $5,000 to develop individual alternative sentencing and reentry plans. In contrast, AWRN offers all programming to prisoners for free and workshops for loved ones costs only $45-$50 and includes all mentioned above.
Continuing Education Seminars: Each day hundreds of men and women go to work in Alabama in fields such as law, social work, healthcare, corrections, and education. Many are aware of their jobs connection to the criminal justice system and may even work for an organization whose mission is directly tied to criminal justice in some manner. Others carry out their professional work with little or no understanding of how their clients are affected by incarceration or how their jobs impact Alabama’s criminal justice system.
With large sums of both federal and state money entering our society focusing on criminal justice reform and reentry, there remains no central effort or curriculum that seeks to strengthen the work of Alabama professionals through continuing education. This lack of a central effort is harmful because well-intended federal and state funding that pushes criminal justice reform may be less effective if it is applied by practitioners who are not as aware of their role, the needs of their clients, and the latest policies, programming, and funding.
AWRN is working to launch the AWRN Practitioner Best Practices Institute, an ongoing series of continuing education workshops. AWRN recently co-hosted an event with the National Advocates for Pregnant Women and Alabama Voices of Recovery focusing on Alabama’s misapplication of the state’s chemical endangerment law in the prosecution of substance using pregnant women and new mothers. The event, Drugs, Pregnancy, and Parenting: What the Experts Have to Say, offered continuing education credits (CEUs) for social workers, treatment counselors, attorneys, and nurses at no charge. Typically, practitioners incur courses that range anywhere from $50-$150 per hour for credits.
In response to the question of why AWRN should win the Collaboration Prize, AWRN operates in the tradition of non-violence, as practiced by Ghandi, Martin Luther King, Dorothy Day, and Cesar Chavez. AWRN is dedicated to and holds most valued broad stakeholder participation to bring forth sustained success in its mission and actions. For centuries in the American South, systemic violence has been rendered through programs and directives of divide and conquer. AWRN would argue that no effort has been more successful in destroying the social fabric of Alabama’s communities than “tough on crime” platforms and policies. The hard-line definitions of “perpetrator” and “victim” have been wielded to effectively disenfranchise not only offenders and ex-offenders, but to brutally tax and break down their families and loved ones. In organizing women in prison, ex-offenders, and their loved ones, all involved in AWRN are dismantling the false dichotomy of perpetrator and victim, as well as expanding the definition of victim to include offenders, ex-offenders and their families as victims of state violence. This pivotal, important work has already had enormous positive impact affecting generations to come in terms of family environment, access to services, community safety and health, and fiscal responsibility of taxpayer dollars. But most importantly, AWRN is bringing freedom where all hope of freedom is lost, where civil rights have reached a modicum and a movement must be brought to secure their restoration.
This is a pivotal time in Alabama criminal justice reform. For example, in 2011, the Alabama Sentencing Commission is legislatively mandated to put forth a bill for truth-in-sentencing reform. Truth-in-sentencing reform has been debunked as a total failure across the nation, yet Alabama holds onto it as a goal. Now is the time to continue our campaign that exposes widespread abuse by the prison system against women and improves the idea of parole in the public eye so that thousands of people are not disenfranchised due to an arbitrary, punitive system. As AWRN continues to share its program outcomes, we thereby dispel myths and lead by example. With your award, AWRN will continue to grow its critical work.