Zonta Club of Pierre-FT Pierre provides exit bag for female prisoners

About 507 women were incarcerated in the South Dakota State Prison system this year. Most state female inmates, who make up 55% of all inmates, are doing time for drugs, a quarter of them are doing time for nonviolent offenses, such as felony DUI, forgery and theft, and 20% are doing time for a violent crime. The recidivism rate at 12 months is 25%, increasing to 44% in three years. On average, eight to ten individuals are released from prison each week.

Individuals released from state prison typically get gate money of US$50 and a bus ticket back to their county of commitment. Some have other funds from prison jobs, work release or resources in the community, but this isn’t the standard. Most release without much by way of finances.

When they go to prison, they lose their job; if they had one. They will probably lose their housing, and they often lose most of their possession as they don’t have someone with the stability and room to take care of their things.

As a small way to address release needs and show compassion and care for women released from prison, the Zonta Club of Pierre-FT Pierre, USA, participated in the exit bag project. The exit bags are 1-gallon zip lock bags containing basic full-sized hygiene items: shampoo, conditioner, deodorant, toothbrush and paste, soap, washcloth and comb/hair pick. A cloth bag is provided to each woman released from prison. It holds the exit bags and feminine hygiene products—District 12 recently donated more than 50 exit bags during their annual meeting. The Church of Hope which runs the program, depends on donations to sustain the project.

Exit bags are a tangible way of service and saying that we care. The women appreciate the shampoo and the toothpaste, but the message of care and concern is just as important. Many organizations donating exit bags include a note of encouragement. Exit bags are a bit of action that says we are thinking about you and want to help. In a small way, this will create a better world for women leaving the prison system.