Power Inside is a Baltimore organization that was founded by Jacqueline Robarge in May, 2001. Its original concept was a self-esteem group for about 50 women in the Baltimore City Detention Center, but Robarge had bigger ideas. She wanted to bring practices of harm reduction — the minimizing of harmful consequences of various behaviors and situations — to these women.
At the time, this was a fairly radical notion. Robarge had learned about harm reduction while doing street outreach in San Francisco, but when she brought it to the East Coast, she found it wasn’t being practiced there, seemingly owing to politics and administrative budget cuts leading to a lack of necessary services. However, the first group was so successful, it received more funding and was able to expand to serve more women in the BCDC. In 2004, the organization added a homeless outreach component. This component was established to address the cycle of homelessness, drug use, and trading sex for survival that lands many women in the detention center.
In 2005, Power Inside commissioned a study of the needs of women in the BCDC. It was a compilation of anonymous interviews of 148 women, and it is entitled, “The WINDOW Study – Release from Jail: Moment of Crisis or Window of Opportunity for Female Detainees in Baltimore City?” This study details many of the scenarios that led to women being arrested, describes factors that affect their daily lives, and explores the women’s’ plans for their release from jail. The study finds that several of these various factors intersect, and discusses how these intersecting factors could affect their chances of success or failure when they’re back on the outside. For example, it was found that when a woman is released from the BCDC, she is four times less likely to have a place to stay if she is bisexual. Additionally, 46% of the women expect to be the sole caregiver for a child upon their release, but only 54% of the the women have a stable pace to stay. Collecting and analyzing these types of statistics are necessary for helping to concentrate helping initiatives directly at the points where they’re most needed. It was found that the experiences and needs of women leading up to and after arrest are vastly different than those of men, and so different treatment is absolutely warranted. The Window study culminated in lists of how many women desired certain services like drug treatment and obtaining literacy skills, and recommendations to the BCDC, service providers, the Judiciary, and law enforcement. This very interesting study can be accessed here: The Window Study
Power Inside now provides a wider scope of services to these women who have such a great need for them. These services include harm reduction street outreach, harm reduction drop-in shelter, trauma and harm reduction group counseling, jail and prison reentry and aftercare, violence prevention education, and community organizing and advocating. If you are interested in learning more about this indispensable organization, donating money to them, or volunteering your time, please visit http://powerinside.org/