Oklahoma Prison Diversion Program Celebrates First Graduates

Monday, March 25th 2013, 6:24 pm
By: Dana Hertneky

A program helping to combat the extraordinarily high number of women in Oklahoma prisons celebrated its first graduates Monday morning.

Oklahoma ranks number one in the nation in its female Incarceration Rate. This program, called ReMerge, takes direct aim at that statistic by targeting mothers and pregnant women facing prison time.

Yvonne Estrada, a mother of five, was facing her second stint in prison, sentenced to ten years on drug and theft charges.

With a one year old at home, she faced not only losing her freedom but her children.

"I begged for this program, and I mean I begged for it," Estrada said.

Eighteen months later, she is sober, happy and one of the first four women graduating from the ReMerge program.

"I was in the county jail, seven months pregnant with twins I was completely broken," Dachelle Black told the crowd during her graduation speech.

The program is designed to take women with nonviolent felony convictions through treatment and education to transform them into productive citizens.

"All I even wanted was to be happy and give my kids a childhood that I never had," Diane Billings said.

The program was put in place to not only change the lives of these women, but also their children.

"We know that impacts their children, children with parents who are incarcerated are five times more likely to end up incarcerated themselves," said Terri Woodland, ReMerge Program Director.

ReMerge can serve 50 women a year, and right now they have about an 85 percent success rate.

Yvonne, is happy to now be a positive statistic and is volunteering in the program to help other women achieve the same.

"If it worked for me, believe me, it's going to work for other women," she said.

The program costs between $20,000 and $22,000 a year. Incarcerating those women would be about $14,000. However, most of these women would spend years in prison, so there is a significant financial benefit to taxpayers as well.