Lisa Cohn's work at Nassau County Correctional Facility is a constant reminder of the need for the kind of housing she is working to establish for women who get out of jail and don't want to return to bad situations.
"I have women all the time ask me, 'Please, can I come there?'" said Cohn, who sold the telecommunications company she owned with her husband last year to run her non-profit.
The inmates she volunteers with are mainly women whose criminal charges stem from substance abuse problems, and 90 percent of those have histories of being abused, she said.
The penal system's answer to their actions comes at a cost of $236.28 per inmate per day to taxpayers, according to Nassau County. When they get out, they often have nowhere to go but the same homes and neighborhoods that are teeming with the same influences which pulled them down in the first place.
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There are alternatives, but places like what Cohn is building are far outnumbered by the women who need them. Such facilities for men are more available on a scale of about 10 to one, Cohn said, as the difficulty of running a live-in program for females, with a particular capacity to have tension with each other, is well-known in the world of post-incarceration programs.
She hopes to have this one operating by the end of the year, and has gotten considerable help in getting this far.
"The Youth Bureau kids were here over the summer mopping the walls, because you can't paint over the nicotine," said Cohn. Formerly the Sunset Rooms, the homes were boarding houses for people with substance abuse issues who Cohn said trashed the property.
Soft pastels now cover the freshly-painted walls, made possible by donations from Aboff Paints. School House Remodeling Co. of Glen Cove pitched in to redo the bathrooms, and a federal grant is paying for new windows and carpeting for the stairs since they contain lead paint, and many women will have children visiting.
Cohn said what she needs most at this point are beds - metal-framed, because wood provides a home for the bed bugs it took so long to rid the houses of. She is seeking donations to purchase $400 frames which can be stacked as bunkbeds to give women more space, although any donations of metal frames are welcome.
The program will house 10 to 12 women at a time between the two houses when they are completed.
To make a donation, call 516-759-0643 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Editor's Note: A previous version of this story incorrectly quoted the annual inmate cost per year as $34,000.
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