Effecting Change for Female Inmates

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During the fifth annual Helen F. McGillicuddy Awards Symposium on April 7, the DePaul University College of Law Journal of Women, Gender & the Law explored topics concerning women in the prison system. This year’s programming brought attorneys, community advocates and women who have passed through the system together to discuss issues facing female inmates and offered possible solutions to redress these concerns.

Speakers examined topics ranging from human trafficking to criminal defense to inadequate prison health care. “We have to really pay attention to who people are when they come into the system and spend time talking to them,” advised Rebecca Janowitz, special assistant for legal affairs at the Cook County Justice Advisory Council. “We need to take better care of people.”

In her keynote address, Marian Hatcher, project manager for the Cook County Jail Sheriff’s Women’s Justice Program, recounted how her personal experiences with human trafficking helps her to build trust with clients. “I understand the fear of returning home after [having been] missing for an extended period of time,” asserted Hatcher. “I understand how it feels to allow somebody to take over your life and really not be sure why [you] did that, why it happened and to say that it’s okay.” During the two years Hatcher spent as a victim of human trafficking, she lost custody of her youngest daughter. Still, she never lost faith. “There’s a whole lot of hope in my story,” she added. As a result of Hatcher’s efforts, more than 303 minors have been recovered, 600 women have sought assistance and 1,832 individuals have been arrested for participating in the purchase of individuals.

“Human trafficking is not just an international situation, it’s a domestic situation,” Hatcher explained. “It’s a violation against human beings. I hope I can leave you with some hope that 10 years later, all is well with me … there’s hope of all types because we’re all recovering or surviving from something.”

Other featured speakers included Kimberly Foxx, Toni Preckwinckle’s chief of staff; Beth Johnson, attorney with Cabrini Green Legal Aid; the Rev. Valerie Riley, director of the Connections Program for Prisoner and Family Ministry at Lutheran Social Services of Illinois; and Gail Smith, founder of Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers. Together, they offered solutions to issues facing women in the prison system.

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