ReMerge program helps women facing prison become productive citizens

OKLAHOMA CITY — ReMerge is a comprehensive female diversion program designed to transform pregnant women and mothers facing incarceration from nonviolent charges, into productive citizens.

ReMerge of Oklahoma County recently held its fourth graduation ceremony at Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation in Oklahoma City. 

Four Oklahoma women, Lori Jobe, Jennifer Lowell, Amy Gage and Ailea Holt, have turned their lives around and recently completed the program.

“I have learned what it takes to be a productive citizen of society and more importantly, the mother that my daughter deserves,” said Holt.

Kelly Dyer Fry, editor of The Oklahoman was keynote speaker for the recent graduation ceremony.

Terri White, Commissioner of The Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services, spoke about the latest information on brain research and addiction.

Terri Woodland, ReMerge Executive Director said, “Oklahoma incarcerates 127 women per 100,000 population compared to the national average of 63. Many of these women are mothers of young children and 77 percent are charged with non-violent crimes, mostly related to substance abuse and addiction.”

Oklahoma leads the nation in the number of women incarcerated per capita.

“Children with one or both parents in prison are more likely to engage in delinquency, drop out of school, and subsequently be incarcerated themselves,” Woodland stated.

“ReMerge offers mothers of young children and pregnant women an opportunity to choose treatment and rehabilitation instead of prison.”

ReMerge works closely with the Oklahoma Department of Corrections, the Oklahoma Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services and 25 member agencies of the Oklahoma County Collaborative.

Woodland said. “We are so fortunate to have the complete support of Oklahoma County DA, David Prater and Oklahoma County Public Defender, Bob Ravitz.”

ReMerge understands the particular needs of women who abuse substances and/or engage in illegal activities. The program is designed to remove some of the barriers these women face to improve the chances of long-term recovery and success.

Oklahoma City Police Chief Bill Citty said, “If you want to see what can be done to reduce the crime rate and keep women out of prison, learn about what ReMerge is doing. In my 36 years of law enforcement I haven’t seen a program that works better.

“ReMerge is the a perfect example of how well coordinated services that meet the individual needs of women on the verge of prison can change not only their lives, but also the lives of their families.”

ReMerge graduate Lori Jobe said, “I have learned how to be a good daughter, a good friend and most importantly, a good mother to three amazing boys. I have been clean and sober for 16 months and addiction no longer controls my life.”

In Oklahoma County, approximately 300 women are sent to state prison each year. That means an estimated 536 children are displaced due to their mother’s incarceration.

The majority of these women are nonviolent, drug addicted, unemployed, victims of childhood physical and/or sexual abuse and victims of adult domestic violence who are raising their children alone.

Graduate Jennifer Lowell said, “Today I have healthy relationships and support from my loved ones and friends in recovery.”

For approximately one-third of these women, their mother and/or father were incarcerated.

ReMerge, which began in May 2011, has 20 graduates who have completed the diversion program, and 50 women are currently enrolled.

The program, divided into four phases, lasts a minimum of 90 days depending upon the needs and progress of the individual client.

Woodland added, “ReMerge is truly a community collaborative to reduce the rate at which we incarcerate women with children by providing treatment and the opportunity to remain in the community with their children and families.”

A treatment plan is developed for each participant to address family, education and employment needs.

Gage said, “Today I am in recovery and I know how to make better choices for my family. I know how to parent out of love instead of guilt. I am a woman with respect, love, better patience, joy, integrity, and self-awareness. I am a phenomenal woman.”

ReMerge board chair, Teresa Rose said, “The initial beneficiaries of ReMerge are the women and their children, however, Oklahoma City is the larger beneficiary gaining women better prepared to be mothers, employees and constructive citizens.”

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NOTE: Darla Shelden is a reporter for The City Sentinel, a weekly newspaper in Oklahoma City, where this report first appeared.