In Pennsylvania, women returning from prison often have to wait more than a month to access critical Medicaid benefits. For women with substance use disorder who were receiving medication-assisted treatment in prison, this disruption in care can be fatal, says Rev. Dr. Michelle Anne Simmons, chief executive officer of Why Not Prosper, a Racial & Economic Justice Fund and Phoebus Criminal Justice Initiative grantee that supports women’s re-entry journey from prison back to their communities.
“When women are released, they’re supposed to get their benefits activated in five days, but it usually takes 32 days,” Rev. Simmons says. “If a woman comes home with opioid addiction and can’t get her medication-assisted treatment, she’ll use and she’ll die. We lose too many women this way.”
Why Not Prosper is taking its fight to Harrisburg, educating legislators about the healthcare crisis women face inside and outside of prisons. “We want every woman to be released from jail with at least one month of their prescription,” Rev. Simmons says. “That way, if it does take that long to get their benefits, they’ve got a prescription to hold them for 30 days. We want that to be the state law. Women’s lives depend on it.”
Why Not Prosper has made powerful allies, including PA Senator Art Haywood, who chairs the Health and Human Services Committee, and First Lady Frances Wolf. Mrs. Wolf recently visited Why Not Prosper’s Germantown office to meet with formerly incarcerated women and bring their stories to Governor Wolf.
Rev. Simmons founded Why Not Prosper in 2001. As a formerly incarcerated woman who once experienced addiction, she brings the lessons she learned to help other women on their re-entry journey. Why Not Prosper offers a continuum of programs that include pre-release mentoring, residential services, job training, and help reuniting with family. “Formerly incarcerated people are human beings first,” she says. “They need to be approached with non-judgment, love, and support.”