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LIFE Program

Program Design & Evaluation Services (PDES) is currently engaged in two projects that seek to integrate public health, economic development, and the criminal justice system to improve incarcerated women’s employment success, mental and physical health outcomes, and decrease recidivism.

In July 2010, PDES collaborated with Mercy Corps Northwest to secure a 4-year, $500,000 Local Funding Partnerships grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (RWJF). RWJF received 181 applications; only 10 projects nationwide were selected.

The current RWJF-funded project builds on ongoing Mercy Corps Northwest work with inmates and ex-offenders, including a 32-week entrepreneurial skills program for women called Lifelong Information for Entrepreneurs (LIFE) at Coffee Creek Correctional Facility in Wilsonville, and programming at the Re-entry Transition Center in NE Portland for individuals recently released from prison.

Despite this comprehensive approach to providing support to women both in and out of prison, an important gap had remained unaddressed. Health conditions—such as depression, anxiety, hepatitis C, poor nutrition and weight gain, and substance abuse—were highly prevalent among this population and were identified as significant barriers to achieving the goals of the LIFE program:  getting and keeping a job, running a small business, and reintegrating into the community.

The new RWJF grant allows Multnomah County Health Department and Mercy Corps Northwest to work together to integrate health promotion skills into the entrepreneurial skills program at Coffee Creek and the Re-entry Transition Center.

Additional projects have developed through our work at Coffee Creek. Through discussions with the inmates, we learned that weight gain, food offerings, and body image while incarcertated are leading health concerns. The CCCF menu exceeds 3,000 calories per day. Poor nutrition and being overweight are risk factors for chronic disease, and exacerbate existing physical and mental health issues. Being overweight can create an array of social, emotional, and practical barriers to successful employment and community reintegration.

As a result, the Oregon Health Authority partnered with the Oregon Department of Corrections to secure a Kaiser Healthy Food Access Grant to expand the existing garden at Coffee Creek, integrate fresh produce grown on-site into the menu, and change facility policy to improve healthy food options for inmates.

Additional Information:

Mercy Corps and the LIFE Program

Work being conducted through the LIFE Plus grant

The links between incarceration and public health

Oregonian article spotlighting CCCF garden and garden coordinator, Debbie Rutt, as part of the Kaiser Healthy Food Access grant project