“The mental health link is missing in the assessment of offenders,” said Judge Singer. He explained that, in the past, the majority of drug offenders seen in the Montgomery County court system were men, but in recent years, the number of women offenders has sky-rocketed in tandem with an increase in opiate abuse.
Judge Singer related that the 2007 film, “Holly,” inspired his interest in women’s issues—specifically that of human trafficking—in and around the Dayton area. “Trafficking occurs in our city all the time in the form of prostitution,” Judge Singer said, pointing out that prostitution is human trafficking. According to Judge Singer, human trafficking has led many women into prostitution. He said, “I believe that women who are prostitutes are victims, not perpetrators.”
The women’s therapeutic probation program will focus on women whose drug use, criminal activity or involvement in human trafficking is masking a mental health issue, abuse or mistreatment in their past or present. “Dope is their solution, not the issue,” said Judge Singer.
The goal of this new program is to take a deeper look at what is causing women to use drugs and commit crimes. The gender-specific therapeutic docket in the Montgomery County court system is designed to provide a “more intensive healthcare look at what’s going on,” says Judge Singer. In particular, the program focuses on the mental health of women who have been involved in the human trafficking industry, have a history of drug abuse or have been involved in crimes such as theft or violent offenses.
Judge Singer explained, “The underlying purpose of this docket, like all specialty dockets, is to reduce recidivism by coordinating treatment and services. A program of scheduled court appearances encourages accountability and allows the court and treatment providers to meet with the offender. The program aims to identify offenders’ real needs and factors that may have prompted the criminal behavior, rather than to simply re-direct them to drug treatment, jail or prison.”
Acknowledging the difficulty of tracking behavior of women offenders because of the many factors involved, Judge Singer noted, “We find that most of our female offenders face similar problems. Not all of these offenders fall victim to sex trafficking, but most female offenders are victimized in some fashion by the female-oppressive aspects of our society.”
The program will address abuse-related mental health issues, including what some women call the “trauma bond” (the bond between abuser and victim), traumatic brain injury and post-traumatic stress disorder. According to Judge Singer, the program will also provide mental health care to women who are not classified as having a “serious mental illness,” but who need help for illnesses such as depression and anxiety.
In an effort to protect the women of Montgomery County, those working on the gender-specific therapeutic program have asked mental health professionals to analyze the program to ensure it adequately meets the needs of the women participating. Judge Singer said that those involved want to make sure that, “if we open a wound, we are able to close it appropriately.”
Judge Singer credits Judge Paul Herbert, creator of the program, Changing Attitudes to Change Habits (CATCH) in Franklin County, for providing a model for the Montgomery County program. The CATCH program is a two-year program to help women who are victims of human trafficking and have been charged with commercial sex acts. The Montgomery County program will employ elements of the CATCH program as well as expanded Medicaid assistance to enhance its mental health focus.
For Judge Singer, the most difficult part of his involvement in the gender-specific therapeutic program is attempting to change cultural attitudes. He explained, “While we can attempt to change policy, changing values and attitudes is where change will happen,” noting that this is not an easy task. “There’s an accepted devaluation and objectification of women and until that changes, we will have exploitation of women and girls,” he said.