Vermont Mentorship Program Helps Women Get Out of Jail

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BURLINGTON, Vermont (NEWS10) – A Burlington nonprofit is partnering with the Vermont Department of Corrections to help incarcerated women make the transition from prison.

The Vermont Women’s Mentorship Program is a Mercy Connections project that pairs trained volunteers with women who are in prison or under community supervision as they prepare to reenter society.

“I think it helps them because they understand that a mentor is a woman who sees their worth, who doesn’t judge them for all the stigmatizing judgments that society offers to women in reintegration”, Joanne Nelson, director of programs for justice and mentoring at Mercy Connections, said.

Mentors take a five-week training course to “learn more about the trauma that most incarcerated women and women involved in the justice system experience in their lives,” said Nelson.

The program requires twinned pairs to remain twinned for one year after release from prison.

“These are critical months to go back to school,” said Nelson. “We are asking our matched pairs to meet at least once a month and this has all been changed a bit by COVID. ”

Each year, approximately 1,400 women are released from South Burlington Women’s Correctional Facility. According to the Vermont Department of Corrections, more than half return to prison within their first year after release. Nelson said women are often stigmatized when trying to find a job.

“They also have to find a safe place to live, and these two, together, you have to earn enough money to find a place where you can pay a lease or contribute rent,” Nelson said.

Lynn Kennedy has been a mentor for over 15 years. “I just finished two years with a woman and the goal was for her to find an apartment and fit into the community, get cleaned up, and she did all of that – she hit her goal,” Kennedy said.

Kennedy said that a particular mentee made him realize the importance of the program.

“She said, ‘You are the only person who has continued to have contact with me because my family has abandoned me and they are tired of me making these decisions and ending up in jail,” said Kennedy. .

Women interested in becoming mentors do not need prior knowledge of the criminal justice system or mentoring experience to participate, Nelson said.

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