For years on end, Oklahoma has led the nation in female incarceration rates.
The Bureau of Justice Statistics reports that in 2014 there were 143 incarcerated women per capita in Oklahoma, which is more than twice the national average.
On a smaller scale, area rehabilitation centers for women who abuse drugs see firsthand the demand for their services. These facilities, including Naomi House and Destiny Recovery Center, serve as prison alternatives for women convicted with a non-violent charge.
Calina Mills oversees Destiny Recovery Center and says that the 10-bed facility routinely stays full.
“We have a waiting list of more than 20 women,” Mills said. “Demand is very high.”
History shows a steady, unrelenting growth in women arrested and booked into prison. The Oklahoma Commission on the status of women reports about a 14 percent growth rate in female arrests between 1996 and 1998, compared to about 11 percent for males.
And while District Attorney offices across the state work with facilities like Destiny to rehabilitate and assimilate women back into society, Destiny co-founder Judy Cavnar says, because of their jail records, they are already at a disadvantage vying for employment, apartments and other living necessities with women who have never been charged with a felony.
Cavnar is a former board member of the Broadway House. In 2013, she decided to branch out and founded Destiny Recovery Center with Connie Varon. Rather than found a facility that is “faith based” with a core emphasis on religion, Cavnar brands Destiny and its three houses as “education based.”
Women who join Destiny are coached to seek unique vocational instruction in order to equip themselves with advantages normal people seeking jobs might not have.
“If you apply somewhere and are able to drive a forklift, employers are more likely to overlook your felony,” Cavnar said.
She decided to place an emphasis on this style of rehabilitation because of its practicality. Cavnar believes this kind of instruction has made for more (and better) success rates.
“You would see women get through the old system, but this is a much more effective way for women to get back into society,” Cavnar said.
The Destiny umbrella also allows women to apply for Journey House, which is what Cavnar calls a three-quarters house. Journey is a recovery facility for women who complete a regimen of rehabilitation at standard houses, such as Naomi House or Destiny House, but with less supervision and a focus on building a woman’s independence.
“Journey is for women who complete their classes and decide, ‘You know, I’m not really ready to be on my own just yet,’” Cavnar said. “Many say how (our houses) are the best living situation they’ve ever had. It’s like one big family.”
It’s part of an effort to break a cycle of relapse. Cavnar said women are potentially in danger of entering bad situations with influences that reintroduce drugs into their life once they’re out on their own.
But by having facilities like Journey, that are an extension of the Destiny mission, Cavnar hopes to nearly eradicate old habits that die hard.
“These women are adults, and we make sure to constantly remind them of that and treat them like one in order to grow their confidence,” Cavnar said.