SWIFT Defense: Moving Quickly to Address the Over-Incarceration of Women

West Virginia women comprise half of the state’s population. While more men are arrested and incarcerated in West Virginia’s jails and prisons, women have seen a substantial increase in rates of incarceration over the last thirty years. Since 1989, West Virginia’s female incarceration rate has increased 677.5%, ranking this state as 14th nationally in the incarceration of women. Nationwide, and in West Virginia, women are more likely to be incarcerated for drug and property crimes with less access to diversion programs and alternative sentencing. The Social Worker Intervention for Trauma-Informed Defense of Women (“SWIFT Defense”) project will change these statistics by using trauma-informed legal practices and social worker intervention to reduce women’s incarceration pretrial.

Through generous grant funding from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation-Chan Zuckerberg Initiative, public defenders in the five judicial circuits serving indigent defendants in Kanawha, Raleigh, Logan, Fayette, Lincoln, and Boone counties will implement project SWIFT Defense of Women to intervene into incarceration rates of female defendants. Women are disproportionately impacted by trauma, and female defendants risk re-experiencing their trauma as they move through the criminal legal system. Through the grant, public defenders and office staff in these five circuits have been trained in trauma-informed legal practice to be able to recognize and respond to trauma in adult female criminal defendants. Trauma-informed legal practice increases the opportunity for public defenders and office staff to recognize trauma in female defendants and refer them to the SWIFT Defense social worker.

The goal of SWIFT Defense is for office staff and public defenders to identify criminally charged women early in their encounters with the legal system, then refer the female defendants to a SWIFT Defense social worker who will properly assess criminal justice involved women in a gender-responsive way with treatment as the goal. The social worker will assess for the presence of substance use disorder, mental health, medical, and parenting support needs, poverty, Adverse Childhood Experiences, self-efficacy, and trauma. The social worker will collaborate with the public defender to divert women into treatment to satisfy their court requirements.

For more information on project SWIFT Defense, please contact Stephanne Thornton at Public Defender Services.

Project SWIFT Defense of Women (Social Worker Intervention for Trauma-Informed Defense of Women) has been made possible in part by a grant from the Greater Kanawha Valley Foundation’s Chan Zuckerberg Initiative Donor Advised Fund.

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