California inmate Sarina Borg had a tough choice to make, says the San Jose Mercury News: She could wait for months to have her rotting teeth repaired by a dentist. Or she could get them pulled to be reunited with her baby daughter. In California women’s prisons, many inmates are faced with the same wrenching decision: To gain access to vocational-training and drug-rehabilitation programs for non-violent offenders – including a course that teaches them parenting skills while living with their children in special housing – they must be cleared of any pre-existing health problems.
Officials say the dental and health clearances are necessary because the specialized programs are based at smaller community prisons and don’t have dentists or doctors on site. About 900 women are in the programs, which cost the state as little as $90 a day per inmate, a taxpayer bargain compared with the $121 daily tab of a traditional prison bed. As helpful as the programs may be in preparing women for life after prison – and as useful as they are at reducing California’s notoriously high recidivism rate – they also have a major downside on the personal lives of the inmates. Mothers who undergo extractions to live with their children have difficulty finding work on release because employers would rather not hire someone whose mouth has more gaps than teeth. “It’s probably almost as big a deal as having a criminal record,” said Allyson West of the California Reentry Program. “They’re going to be pigeonholed because of their appearance.”