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Legal Aid mission expanded, same

Thursday, July 11, 2013

  • By: Ralph Schaefer
  • Organization: Tulsa Business & Legal News

Women in Recovery participants added to role

The Legal Aid of Oklahoma mission has been expanded, yet it is the same – assisting those most in need of legal help.  Now they assist Women In Recovery graduates move from the shadow of prison to regain their place with their family and in society.

Michael G. Figgins, executive director, and Sara Cherry, assigned to the Tulsa office and Women In Recovery program, are excited about the opportunity to provide those services that can help prevent that return to incarceration.

Most of the women in the program are in trouble because of drug-related offenses.  None in the program have been charged with or convicted of violent crimes.

Legal Aid’s assistance centers around the three R’s; Recovery – the barrier to return to society; Reunited – with children and family, and Removal – legal issues that prevent them from getting needed services.

“We cover all types of legal issues helping the women,” Cherry said.  These include helping a person get a drivers license; dealing with housing issues and unpaid utility bills, and getting guardianships reversed.

The success of the Tulsa Women In Recovery program has been noted and a similar program, Re-Merge, sponsored by the Inasmuch Foundation, will begin in Oklahoma City in the next two or three months.

These programs could be an example to other states of how to help women, Figgins said.  Oklahoma, with the highest incarceration rate of women in the nation – and the world – can show others that it is possible to provide help to reverse that incarceration rate.

Legal Aid became fully involved with the Women In Recovery program in January.  There was limited involvement in 2012.  This is a wonderful blend of funders, non-profits and Legal Aid working together, he said.  The attorney’s work can help address legal and other issues.  Without that help, the woman might find herself back in prison.

Women in the program are focused on the care and wellbeing of their children, Cherry said.  This often is the biggest barrier they encounter as they work towards completion of the program requirements.

Housing concerns also rank high on the list, especially when there are evictions or unpaid utility bills.  "We at Legal Aid help resolve these issues,” she continued.  There is wide support and people want to help.

For example, a utility company might forgive part of the unpaid bill and payment plans worked to ensure the debt is paid.  Sometimes the bill will be forgiven if it is shown that the woman fled her home because of domestic abuse issues.

Employment issues are reviewed and resolved.  Some women with disabilities are unable to work and Legal Aid helps them get signed up to receive the appropriate Social Security check.

More community support is being received, as the Women In Recovery program becomes better known, she said.  The people want to support the Kaiser Family Foundation and the Family and Children’s Services efforts.

Economic benefits derived through the Women In Recovery program start with the state – taxpayers – not having to fund the estimated $22,000 to keep someone in prison for a year.  Children often are reunited with their mother and a family stability helps break the chain where they would end up in prison.

In addition, the children have the opportunity to get involved in the F&CS FIND program that helps them get counseling and other therapeutic help needed so they can have a chance at life, she said.  Many children saw their parent arrested.

Figgins said he saw the Legal Aid involvement as another step in bringing the various funding and nonprofit groups together to serve the community.  The benefit of this partnership is seen in the Women In Recovery program.

 

Published May 22, 2013

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