Guest Blog (Amy Santee): Women in Recovery program making a difference

Amy Santee, the author of this guest blog, is Senior Program Officer with George Kaiser Family Foundation in Tulsa.

In my last blog post, I posed the following question: “Is it not better public policy to provide these (incarcerated) women with treatment and the tools to become better parents and productive citizens?”

Well, Women In Recovery (WIR) is the answer to that question. WIR is a pilot diversion program that Family & Children’s Services (F&CS) and the George Kaiser Family Foundation (GKFF) have built together that provides an alternative to incarceration for women in Tulsa county.

Oklahoma’s female incarceration rates have long been the worst in the country, yet little has been done to improve the situation for women in our state. GKFF has identified the problem as an area of top concern. Through “start up” funding provided by GKFF, Family and Children’s Services initiated a pilot program based on best practice and evidence-based models to offer a cost-effective, holistic approach to diverting female offenders from incarceration. WIR has established unprecedented collaboration with the local Office of the District Attorney, Office of Public Defenders, Tulsa County Court Services, Tulsa County Criminal District Judges, and the Oklahoma Department of Corrections.

This highly successful program is in the process of expanding its capacity to serve up to 100 women, and subsequently their hundreds of children.  These children’s lives have been directly affected by their mothers’ substance abuse and the attendant criminal activity. The demand for services continues to grow as evidenced by the many referrals from local judges, attorneys and Tulsa County Court Services.  To date there have been 63 admissions and the daily census has grown from 8 women in June 2009 to 49 in September 2010.

Initial outcomes of the program are quite promising:

  • 100 percent of current participants have attained safe and stable housing; are working toward improving their health, well being and self sufficiency; and are working to achieve family reunification;
  • 63 percent of current participants have become employed;
  • 86 percent  of the total of 63 admissions have avoided incarceration to date and 100 percent have not committed a new offense.

After the program’s first year, six women have successfully completed WIR and have had successful reunification with their children.  A condition of graduation from the program is employment, to ensure self-sufficiency, and each of these women have begun to partake in an aftercare support program that aims to foster their long-term success by offering support with budgeting and finances, employment coaching, and continued recovery support groups   In addition, the program believes that it is important that each of these women gives back to WIR and help future generations of program participants.

The benefits of WIR do not stop with each individual woman and their immediate family. WIR saves Oklahoma ongoing annual costs related to incarceration; reduces the loss of taxpayer dollars due to unemployment; and reduces health care costs. Oklahoma’s habit of imprisoning women rather than treating them is expensive, ineffective and damaging to children, both short-term and long term.

In the 2010 legislative session, Oklahoma passed HB2998.  This bill directed the development of pilot programs to reduce the high rate of female incarceration through the adoption of evidence-based practices and proven strategies.  Both Tulsa and Oklahoma Counties have begun development of these programs at both ends of the spectrum, partnering with state and local service providers.  I am firmly confident that HB2998 was the beginning of a series of powerful pieces of legislation about this critical issue and am confident that more progress will be made during the 2011 legislative year.

I have directly witnessed the impact that Women in Recovery is having.  Mothers who faced charges that would land them in prison for decades of their lives have been successfully rehabilitated through substantial mental health, trauma informed services and substance abuse treatment. They have re-entered the workforce, become reunified with their families, and built a safe home.   I do not want to make this process sound easy, it is far from that.  These women work exceedingly hard to rebuild their lives.  I am touched each time I visit the program and see the changes that each of these women have made in their individual lives. I hope that this program will be replicated to serve even more women and also change Oklahoma’s status of incarcerating more women per capita than any other state or country.

The opinions stated below are not necessarily those of OK Policy, its staff, or its board. This blog is a venue to help promote the discussion of ideas from various points of view and we invite your comments and contributions. To see our guidelines for blog submissions, click here.


Former Executive Director David Blatt joined OK Policy in 2008 and served as its Executive Director from 2010 to 2019. He previously served as Director of Public Policy for Community Action Project of Tulsa County and as a budget analyst for the Oklahoma State Senate. He has a Ph.D. in political science from Cornell University and a B.A. from the University of Alberta. David has been selected as Political Scientist of the Year by the Oklahoma Political Science Association, Local Social Justice Champion by the Dan Allen Center for Social Justice, and Public Citizen of the Year by the National Association of Social Workers.

5 thoughts on “Guest Blog (Amy Santee): Women in Recovery program making a difference

  1. My daughter, Christa A. Moore, DOC# 616918, is currently incarcerated @ MBCC. She will complete the Helping Women Recover program there next week on Feb. 17, 2011. She is requesting from the court a one-year review of her violent crime, in concert with robbery with a firearm. However, the root cause of her crime was drug addiction and mental illness (she has diagnoses from her psychiatrist and was in the Access to Recovery, Cherokee Nation program when she committed her crime.)

    Her attorney wants to offer the court an alternative to serving the remainder of her sentence in prison (She was sentenced to 5 years, the minimum she could have received.

    She was a college student @ TCC when she was sentenced and has her CNA and CMT (certified massage technician). She has a 2.5 year-old son who has a serious immune system diorder and is receiving chemotherapy for currently. She sincerely wants to remain sober and knows she must continue her treatment to succeed in life. Could you please tell me if there is a possibility of her transferring to your program if the judge gives her a modification?


    Christa’s mom, Paula Gladd Moore

  2. I would like to say my 22 year old daughter is currently in David L Moss while awaiting trial. She does have an addiction problem, but sadly it’s a case of wrong place, wrong time. She was at a house of a friends that apparently had trash that contained evidence of previous meth cooking. She was sleeping and when TPD officers arrived, she was sleeping and was woken up and told to sign a paper or they would arrest her, she tried to read the paper and they were yelling at her to stop being difficult and sign the paper or she was going to jail, she signed and it was a waiver of search warrent. She had no drugs on her, was not under the influence, and no previous drug charges. Her charges are endeavoring to manufacture, and her only hope of not going to prison is Women in Recovery. I am so thankful for your program bc it will hopefully keep her clean and Women in Recovery will be the saving grace to keep a bright young woman out of prison, because of fraudulant activities of Tulsa Police Dept

  3. Thank you for sharing your expertise with your readers. It’s comforting to know that you’re article validates some of our beliefs. I hope this continues.

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