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Crossroads for Women: Breaking Cycles, Building Lives

By Kelly Church

Crossroads for Women, founded in 1997 in Albuquerque, is a nonprofit offering supportive housing, counseling, vocational assistance, parenting services and therapeutic social services to women working to break the cycle of homelessness and incarceration. In 2005, Crossroads expanded the day treatment program significantly, adding broader therapeutic services and community rich social activities for clients. Resource Development Director Amanda Douglas describes the vital work that Crossroads does for at-risk women and their children in the Albuquerque community.

The United States is notorious for leading the world's industrialized nations in incarceration. A generally biased view is that most individuals behind bars are men, Douglas points out. However, according to Bureau of Justice Statistics the number of women in prison has increased by more than 646% between 1980 and 2010?a rate nearly 1.5 times that of men. Shockingly, the number of women incarcerated in state facilities for drug offenses alone increased by 888% between 1986 and 1999, while the increase for non-drug offenses was 129%.

Communities across the nation are engaging in dialogue in order to understand the reasons for this disparity. One underlying cause for the dramatic rise in female imprisonment is the co-occurrence of substance abuse and mental health issues, often stemming from experiences with childhood and adult trauma. The U.S. Department of Justice reports that roughly 75% of women with substance addiction report past sexual abuse, 52% report physical abuse, and 72% report emotional abuse. Most female offenders are incarcerated for non-violent crimes.

Crossroads supports women who primarily suffer from mental health and substance abuse issues. Douglas indicates that the waiting list of individuals who want to enter the program is long, and that roughly 75% of the women incarcerated at the Metropolitan Detention Center in Bernalillo County meet the eligibility criteria for the Crossroads for Women program. The shortage of similar assistive programs in New Mexico is alarming in the face of such worrying statistics. In fact, there has been a decrease in services available to women who are reentering the community despite the 700% increase in the female population in New Mexico correctional facilities in the last 25 years. Programs like Crossroads for Women are essential for that very reason.

Crossroads for Women is the only housing provider in the entire state that incorporates intensive, gender-specific and trauma-informed wrap-around services specifically for homeless, formerly incarcerated women with co-occurring disorders?resilient women working to reintegrate into the community," points out Douglas. The usual profile of a woman treated by the program includes homelessness, substance addiction, mental health disorder and a history of incarceration. Douglas says that women who are especially at risk and who have tried other methods of treatment without success often find effective care at Crossroads.

The trauma informed, gender responsive model of care utilized by Crossroads for Women owes its provenance to renowned trauma specialist, Dr. Stephanie Covington and substance abuse expert, Dr. Gabor Mate. Douglas emphasizes that Crossroads for Women provides a continuum of care allowing women to transition to a lower or more intensive level of care while still receiving support from the program.

Crossroads has been able to demonstrate the merits of its treatment model for engaging and retaining this population long enough to receive the help they need. In New Mexico, 46% of women released from prison are re-incarcerated within three years, compared to only 12% of women who entered Crossroads programs.

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