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New Campaign Tackles Incarceration, HIV Rates Among Women Of Color

Black and Hispanic women are overrepresented in U.S. prisons, according to the Bureau of Justice Statistics. And women of color make up roughly 80 percent of all women with HIV, despite making up only 40 percent of the female population.

A private philanthropy called the California Wellness Foundation is giving out $13 million this spring to help nonprofits change those trends. The money will fund awareness campaigns, financial and legal resources for women, and policy work in the Bay Area, the Central Valley and Southern California.

Katherine Katcher directs a statewide nonprofit called Root & Rebound, which helps former inmates return to society. She says women of color have it particularly hard because of trauma they experience while incarcerated, and the racial and economic barriers they face when they get out.

“What we’ve seen is that the very few reentry organizations that do exist end up really focusing on men,” Katcher said.

Root & Rebound already works in the Bay Area and in Los Angeles, so they’re using the grant funding to open a location in Fresno.

Carmen Garcia, director of finance and administration at the nonprofit, was incarcerated from 2008 to 2012. She says the trauma she experienced behind bars and the lack of resources made it difficult to move forward after her release.

“A big reason why a lot of people — especially women — are so confused coming out is because not only do they have to have a grip on their own life, they have to be ready to take over being mothers again,”she said. “It’s really hard when you don’t know who you are anymore.”

Some groups will use the California Wellness Foundation funding to help raise awareness about HIV prevention and early-stage treatment. Experts suspect rates of HIV diagnosis in women of color are high because women tend to have sexual partners of the same race, and there are more African American and Latino men living with HIV than white men.

Others nonprofits collaborating with the foundation will look at implementation of California’s Prop 47 — a law that reduces penalties for drug crimes — with a focus on women.

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