MARQUETTE - A new program offered to women housed in the Marquette County Jail is aiming to keep them from ever returning through the jailhouse doors.
Mary Mantyla, Marquette County probation officer and the program director for the jail, said it works to help women raise their self-esteem and begin understanding how to become self-sufficient and how to make good decisions.
"(It's meant to) help women to define who they are, what they really want out of life, what they feel they deserve, how they think of themselves as persons, to own their own reality and reclaim their life and create positive thought," Mantyla said. "There's different things we'll work on on a weekly basis."
The program, where participants meet weekly, is still in its infancy, having only started a few short weeks ago, so it's too soon to tell how effective it will be in helping reduce the recidivism rate among women in the county lockup.
Mantyla said the idea crossed her mind after seeing the success of the Marquette County Sobriety Court, which offers services to people who've been arrested for alcohol-related offenses in an effort to ensure they don't repeat the same behaviors.
Marquette County District Court administrator Charity Mason told the Marquette County Board at a meeting earlier this year that the highly successful program saw only one of 89 individuals who went through the sobriety court process arrested again for drunken driving.
The sobriety court process offers more one-on-one contact with probation agents and provides a higher level of treatment and care, Mantyla said.
"There's also a camaraderie with a group of people," she said. "Like a support system among them, cheering you on to do better. It's an 'atta-boy' kind of thing.
"We're very into the sobriety court we have and because of that, we've learned a lot of different skills regarding what people need and what you need to do with a certain population ... I feel our success has been pretty good with the female population in sobriety court."
Part of Mantyla's job as programs director is to implement new programs at the jail, and she said that with the increasing number of women being incarcerated, it made sense to attempt to address the issue.
"We have a population of women in the jail," Mantyla said. "As you can imagine, it's not a very good place to be."
She said she's focusing on women for the program because often, women have more varied or more traumatic experiences than men that ultimately lead them to make unwise choices that land them in jail.
"I've been working in this jail for 26 years, and women have a lot of issues that men do not have, because they're basically the caregiver of most of the children, and the financial support is not there and they have major self-esteem issues, especially if they're using alcohol and drugs," Mantyla said. "I know a lot of people think probation officers are just sanctions and punishments, but the key here is rehabilitation, with the hope that people don't come back and their lives get better."
The program is voluntary, so no inmates are ordered to participate as part of their jail sentence. It's also voluntary on a weekly basis, so women may come and go as they choose, deciding to participate one week and skip the next.
Mantyla said she's hoping the program will instill that same sense of camaraderie and support she feels the sobriety court engenders in its participants.
"We want the women to get along with each other better and hopefully they'll be able to develop better communications (skills) while they're incarcerated," she said. "(In group) we talk about things that are bothering them, things they want to work on and solutions to what's going on. They help each other solve situations and then we do certain exercises to help them formulate better decisions."
The program, which requires no extra funding for the jail, is still in the preliminary phase, Mantyla said, and she's paying close attention to the progress made by the women to see how it can be bettered in the future.
"It's in the development stage," Mantyla said. "What doesn't work, we'll take out and change things throughout the next few months and see how it goes."
And though the program is still young, Mantyla is confident it will help the women who choose to participate in it.
"It's going to work because we're going to make it work," Mantyla said. "I don't start something with the idea that it's not going to work."
Jackie Stark can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 242. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.