The Fort Dodge Residential Correctional Facility opened its doors to female offenders for the first time Wednesday.
There are now three women living at the new facility at 311 First Ave. S., but there could eventually be as many as 12, said Kristen Arkland, probation parole officer for the facility.
''Before we had the new facility here, women would be sent to Mason City, Marshalltown or Ames, and they would be expected to do all the things they are expected to do here,'' said Arkland. ''But their children, boyfriends, husbands, families are all back here in Fort Dodge.''
Messenger photo by Hans Madsen
Kristen Arkland, a probation parole officer with the 2nd Judicial District Department of Correctional Services, shows one of the two-person rooms at the new facility in Fort Dodge. The facility is now able to house female offenders.
Arkland said the move from Fort Dodge to another community could be a little hard for the women to handle.
''It's very stressful,'' she said. ''Once they get all settled and find a job, they come back to Fort Dodge and have to start all over again and find a new job.''
Don Sorensen, residential manager for the Residential Correctional Facility, agreed.
''These women are taken out of their homes and placed into a new city,'' he said. ''We're just happy we can serve the women here in their hometown. We're very excited to be able to serve the female population in Fort Dodge.''
Now they get to stay in the community they are familiar with and were planning on staying at anyway, Arkland said.
''It's much better for the women,'' she said. ''The other facilities are wonderful, but it's harder for the family to visit and offer support for these women when they're so far away.''
It was especially hard for women with mental health problems who have doctors in Fort Dodge, she said.
''They would often have to find their own transportation back to see their doctors,'' Arkland said.
She said judges may even consider sending the women to prison rather than relocating them to another community. But now that the building is taking female clients, they have another option.
The Residential Correctional Facility can house up to 60 people who are either being introduced back into the community after completing a prison term, or who have been sentenced to be supervised by the corrections department, Arkland said.
Sorensen said they are able to have both men and women in the facility now that they have all the necessary staff trained.
''Some of the needs of men and women are different, and we needed to have the staff trained to understand those differences,'' said Sorensen. ''Women need makeup and we're not used to that because that's something the men just didn't need to have.''
He said they also needed to be aware that most women have the custody of their children and there is always the possibility that relationships could form.
They also wanted to ensure both the men's and women's privacy remains intact while they are living in the same facility, he said.
''We wanted it to be as safe as possible,'' Sorensen said. ''There are locks on the doors. The women have their own wing, and there is staff on duty at all times. They have separate TV lounges and laundry times, and we have cameras everywhere our staff can immediately see.''
Sorensen said incidents are rare at other co-ed facilities, but safety is always first when working with both men and women clients.
Arkland works directly with the female clients to help them find jobs, pay fines or bills, and to help fulfill their individual needs.
''Some times the women will come from abusive situations, so we offer curriculum for making good choices and developing problem-solving skills,'' she said.
She said a lot of women she works with have theft or forgery charges due to thought distortions.
''They think they need money, so they steal, which makes them feel good for awhile, but doesn't solve the problem, so they continue to do it until they get caught,'' she said. ''We teach them to think it through the next time they need money. There are other options like getting a job or borrowing the money from their parents that make them feel good too.''
The facility's programs are meant to build self-confidence and problem-solving skills to get the women back into the community without re-offending, Arkland said.
A community they hopefully won't have to leave, she said.
Contact Katie Williams at (515) 573-2141 or firstname.lastname@example.org