Lydia’s Place was founded in 1993 by a group of Pittsburgh county jail volunteers alarmed at what was happening to female inmates and their children, says the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette in the second of a series. The goal of the faith-based group is to help women in jail make the transition back to the outside world and to help their children cope with a mother behind bars. Its annual budget of $400,000 is a mix of county aid, private foundation money and funds it has raised itself.
If anyone spreads confidential information heard in class, she is out of the program. Vernetta Byrd, program coordinator, says judges are no longer lenient to women just because they have children. Mandatory drug sentencing changed that. There is a possibility of losing their parental rights if they have no interaction with their children for 15 months during a 22-month period. Three times a week for 21/2 months, Byrd teaches a group of 20 women who will be freed in the coming months and are selected based on their willingness to change. About 37 percent of female offenders in Pennsylvania state correctional institutions released in 2001 returned within three years. Of the 836 women the group helped last year, only 70 came to Lydia’s Place after they were released.