To the editor: The “back and forth” about making use of the women’s jail for Western Massachusetts that was built in Chicopee points out both what is valuable and what is needed.
Before the Western Massachusetts Regional Women's Correctional Center was built, women were confined in one “corner” of each of the county jails, which were all mostly confining male prisoners. Women were protected from misbehavior by male prisoners by giving them — or sometimes only one female prisoner — separate exercise time.
It was common that female prisoners had to tolerate wolf whistles and catcalls that included words of flirtation or obscenity or both whenever they were moved — indoors or outdoors — from the area of the jail where women were housed to the exercise area.
Women prisoners also need counselors and access to supportive programs intended to reduce the risk that prisoners will break the law after their release from jail. These programs help cope with addiction and various mental health problems and offer opportunities to earn a GED or learn the skills necessary to take the test and get a job. Because there were so few women in jail, generally, fewer of the programs were offered to female prisoners.
It is accurate to observe that travel time and cost can be a real burden for family and friends who visit female inmates. It can interfere with the frequency of those visits. Do not dismiss the importance of the services and environment of safety that is available at the women’s jail that can’t really be available to female prisoners in any of the jails in Western Massachusetts.
I suggest that what is needed is free and frequent transportation for visitors of female prison inmates. And I respect the wisdom of Sheriff Thomas Bowler for transferring female prisoners to the Chicopee jail for the better opportunities for each woman to do what’s needed to stay out of jail once she’s released.
Julia W. Kay-Grace, Becket