Mapping The Way Home: Reducing Barriers to Women’s Reentry After Prison
by Patricia O'brien

 family  public-policy  reentry  substance-abuse

For Strong Women

A strong woman is a woman incarcerated.
A strong woman is a woman standing alone
Enclosed by four walls of a brick cell while trying to collect her thoughts,
Realizing what exactly she did wrong to be there in the first place.
A strong woman is a woman battered.
A strong woman is a woman who looks over her wounds
And gets the hell out so she can look forward to better and brighter days.
A strong woman is a woman raped.
A strong woman is a woman who’s
Not afraid to speak out and talk about it
So it won’t scar her for life.
A strong woman is a woman who is an addict.
A strong woman is a woman who cleaned herself up-
Takes it one day at a time-
Working on change-
Taking on new responsibilities.
A strong woman is a woman who gives birth to a new baby girl-
Who will one day be a strong woman herself.

Carla Martinez (2000)

Although far fewer women than men are sentenced to prison, their rates of incarceration are increasing faster than those of men and they reenter communities with unique needs and challenges related to children and family issues, employment, and substance abuse. While men greatly outnumber women in state or federal prison, since 1990 the annual rate of growth of female inmates has averaged 7.5%, higher than the 5.7% average increase of male inmates. Therefore the total number of male prisoners has grown 24% since 1995, while the number of female prisoners has increased 36%. By yearend 2001, there were slightly more than 93,000 women in state or federal prisons (Harrison & Beck, 2002).

The dramatic increase in the number of men and women incarcerated in state and federal prisons in the United States over the last ten years has become a matter of common knowledge,. What is less considered, though perhaps more alarming, is the growing number of individuals who are now returning to their neighborhoods after having served prison terms. Women going forward from their prison cells to their communities have to be “strong women” in order to make it despite the many obstacles in their way that too often result in a trip back to prison in a cycle of rearrest and release.

Considered collectively, the needs of thousands of women transitioning from prison to the community represent a critical issue, national in scope. It requires us to work locally to ensure that informed services are in place and to agitate nationally to modify the current social policies that continue to punish women who have served their time. We know who goes to prison in this country and understand the many consequences of women’s incarceration and the forced separation from families and communities. We know less about how women exit prison and manage the process of reentry.

Drawing from a number of interviews I’ve conducted over the last five years in which women describe some of their perceptions of and experiences with the process of reentry, this paper highlights some of the policies that prevent women from becoming economically stable so they can support themselves and their families. It closes with a discussion of recommended actions to address these barriers and better map the way home.

Women Reentering Communities after Release from Prison

A number of studies and articles agree on the major issues that women face after release from prison. They are: Reestablishing a home and family life, including regaining legal and physical custody of children; Finding affordable housing and meeting other basic needs; Securing employment that pays a sufficient income; Creating a new social network that may or may not include intimate relationships; Fulfilling the multiple conditions of a parole plan, including continued sobriety, if not recovery, from alcohol or drug addiction; and finally, Negotiating the stigmatized perception of women ex-prisoners by the general public-potential employers, landlords, and community members.

As we strategize about addressing the needs of women in the transition from prison to community, it is important to acknowledge that essential to any proposed change is the adoption of a new paradigm of responding to crime and criminal behaviors. A recent study from the Open Society Institute found that public opinion on crime and criminal justice has in fact shifted over the past few years. In every demographic group surveyed, and even among the groups thought to be most conservative or “hard on crime,” respondents supported an approach that would deal with the causes of crime rather than the continued spending on warehousing prisoners. In addition, nearly two-thirds of all respondents agreed that the best way to reduce crime is to effectively rehabilitate prisoners by require education and job training so that once released, prisoners have the tools to proactively support themselves. The overwhelming change in opinion from a more punitive to a more rehabilitative approach to crime provides a backdrop to creating the concrete resources and policy changes needed to promote successful reentry.

The next section discusses the complex web of obstacles that women exiting prison face and recommends actions for alleviating them. Quotations from women prisoners and ex-prisoners were culled from interviews in several studies (O’Brien, 2001; O’Brien, 2002; O’Brien & Bates, 2002). Women in individual interviews and focus groups were asked about what they needed to be successful in reentry after release form prison.

Family Life and Children

Across the country, an estimated 1.5 million children have a parent held in a state or federal prison in the U.S., an increase of more than half a million since 1991 (Mumola, 2000). Many of these children grow up in foster care, with grandparents or other relatives, or bouncing among an array of temporary caretakers. Women in prison have few opportunities for parenting from the inside and they worry about the impact of their separation on their children. Speaking from prison, DE talked about her 15-year old son and the issues she would have to address as she attempted to reestablish a parenting role with him:

My son is me. I see me all over him and I got to stop it right now. I got to do something, you know, whereas nobody did nothing for me. They thought that, they did what they thought they can do, but, they were in their own sicknesses. You know, and their own problems so they couldn’t really help me and I didn’t really want their help, either. You know, I was 15, you can’t tell me nothing. I know everything, you know. But I’m trying to put my mind back to how I thought then where my son is at now, you know, so I can deal with that. Oh, God, I don’t want my kids to go through this. (2001)

Children of African American families are hit particularly hard. Nearly half the parents behind bars are Black; another 20 percent are Hispanic. One of the differentiating factors for women in prison -from fathers who are locked up- is that about two-thirds of them lived with their children prior to incarceration and are more likely to resume custody of their children after release. As these mothers struggle to make a fresh start, they will encounter a myriad of legal barriers that may make it extraordinarily difficult for them to succeed in caring for their children. The Temporary Assistance to Needy Families welfare reform legislation of 1996 (TANF) and the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA) often present oppressive roadblocks to women leaving prison.

The TANF legislation, which represents a complete overhaul of our social welfare system, was intended to reduce welfare dependence through work. In practice, unintended effects of the legislation have produced an increased proportion of people of color remaining on welfare who are unable to get or keep adequate employment. In addition the policies do not address the lack of adequate financial support for poor relatives caring for children whose parents are incarcerated, and stipulates against financial support for poor parents with drug felony convictions who are the primary care takers for their children upon release from prison.

As a consequence of the federal and state “war on drugs” and the increasing number of convictions and “mandatory minimum” sentences that include prison time for women (who often possess even small amounts of controlled substances), drug convictions have become the largest single factor accounting for the rapid increase of women in prison. A provision in the TANF legislation stipulates that persons convicted of a state or federal offense involving the use or sale of drugs are subject to a lifetime ban on receiving cash assistance and food stamps. Each state has the option for whether or not the ban is enforced. Generally, the woman’s children may still be eligible for limited cash assistance and the ban does not extend to food stamps.

It is estimated that as many as 92,000 women in 23 states that enforce the ban in full or in part will be affected by the lifetime welfare ban (Allard, 2002) and a majority of the women affected by the lifetime ban are African American. The lifetime ban on welfare assistance, especially for women who have children to support, will have a serious effect on women’s ability to overcome addiction, to raise their children, find work, and access drug treatment services. Welfare assistance is a pivotal transitional mechanism for poor and low-income families who face economic insecurity in the weeks and months after release from prison. Losing access to public benefits is likely to make it harder for mothers with criminal records to stay clean and sober, avoid abusive relationships, regain custody and take care of their children, seek and retain employment, and resist engaging in criminal activity.

The second major policy affecting former women prisoners is the Adoption and Safe Families Act of 1997 (ASFA). This Act had as its goal the reduction of children in foster care, increased permanent placement with relatives, increased adoptions, and the increased number of children safely reunited with biological parents. The negative unintended effects of this law include: the increased terminations of parental rights; a limited increase in adoptive homes (especially for older children and those disabilities); increases in both formal and informal kinship care - often without the necessary financial support for these kinship arrangements; and a lack of adequate time to achieve reunification with incarcerated parents and parents needing substance abuse treatment. Due to ASFA’s expedited timeline for termination of parental rights, any parent who goes to prison, even for a short time, faces the risk of losing her children forever. To protect their rights, incarcerated mothers must work consistently, and against difficult barriers, both while in prison and afterwards.

Doesn’t have as much respect for me as he should because I’ve been out of his life a long time because of drugs and all that. (DE, 2001) Conviction of a crime or incarceration should not mean that a parent cannot continue a loving relationship with their child. Children as well as parents are affected by the dissolution of their families. Many children in foster care value their relationships with their parents and it is important that these relationships be sustained wherever possible.


Safe, decent, and affordable housing is critical to the well-being of women with and without custody of their children after they are released from prison. The Chicago Coalition for the Homeless in their “snapshot” survey of women detained at Cook County Detention Center, one of the nation’s largest, found that 54% reported being homeless (defined as residing in an emergency or transitional shelter, doubled up with family and/or friends, staying outside, or in cars) in the 30 days prior to entering the jail (Goswami, 2002). Furthermore, the study reported that those women without housing are likely to be detained more than six times. Of those women who were unemployed, 23% indicated they were not employed because they had no place to live.

I got my place, and I slept on the floor. I had one blanket. I felt good sleeping on that floor. I was free(D, 1996).

The need for “a safe place to be,” what most of us define as home at the end of the day, is paramount for getting and keeping a job, kicking a drug habit, escaping an abusive relationship, and moving back into the community.

Disinvestment in communities and deterioration of housing stock has led to the displacement of lower income households in urban centers, the destination of most women leaving prison. In addition, the federal government’s “One Strike Initiative” provided for under Section 9 of the Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act of 1996 allows public housing authorities to evict or refuse housing to applicants based on their personal use of an illicit substance or a felony drug conviction. The law holds particular risks for low-income women of color who are most often the head of household in public and subsidized housing. Not only can a tenant be evicted due to her own drug use, but she can also be evicted because a visitor possesses or uses drugs without her knowledge. States vary in the length of time the ban is in effect; in Illinois for example, the bar on admission to public housing is five years for all felony convictions. This effectively precludes many released women who served a sentence for a drug offense from reapplying for public housing.

Now I can understand them being concerned if you’re selling, or you have a lot of traffic in. But to deny you an apartment because you have a felony conviction? I don’t think that’s fair. I mean if you want decent housing, now yeah you want to go on the flap track, and that would encourage you to go back to drugs, or to drinking or wherever. Not me. But that would encourage someone else to go back to whatever brought them there in the first place. Because you say why keep trying? (AA, 2001)

Residential “halfway” houses for ex-inmates in the transition back to community from prison have been proven to be effective in facilitating participants’ reentry. Family is not the only or the best housing option for some women, particularly those with an addiction.

I was supposed to go with my daughter, but to go with her, it’s a negative. It’s a trigger. I would use. She haven’t forgave me for whatever. And I be still trying to make up for it. And I can’t make up for what happened. The only thing I could do is end up destroying myself. So why deceive myself. The best healthy thing for me to do is to go to a half-way house… it’s what I need - stability and structure in my life. (RH, 2001)

An evaluation of a metropolitan residential center for ex-incarcerated women found that over the first five years of operation, only 20% of former residents returned to prison after departure as compared to the state recidivism rate of 43.7% (O’Brien, 2002). Women who resided at this facility were uniform in their recognition of the importance of having a safe place for working through some of the emotional issues related to incarceration or past struggles, as well as receiving the information and resources for taking steps in rebuilding their lives.

I didn’t have to, really so to speak start from scratch cuz that’s exactly what I would been doing if I would have went home. So, it gave me a sense of security to walk through Grace House doors when I initially did. And I think that made all the difference in the world. Just having that security factor in my life at that particular time. Because it can be real scary not knowing how—if you don’t have a plan and how it’s gonna turn out for you. And so basically it was more like a safety net for me (C, 2001).


Women’s focus on relationships with others is a major source of self-worth and empowerment that defines their perceptions of the world and their role or place within it. Relationships however, can also inhibit personal growth and be physically and emotionally debilitating.

My old friends. Cause I have to change my people, places and play grounds. They offered things that I don’t need in my life today. For me coming home and having been gone for a while, the first thing they want to offer you is some drugs or drink (VH, 2001).

Among incarcerated women, the rate of abuse they have experienced either within their families or by intimate partners is quite high (estimates vary from 44% to 80%), much higher than the incidence in reported by women in the general population. In addition to the multiple physical problems women experience as a result of violence, the psychological effects have been identified as low self-esteem, clinical levels of depression, lack of assertiveness, feelings of powerlessness, strong fear reactions to threatening situations, and vulnerability to medical illness. There is also some evidence that women’s involvement in drug use and sales, as well as other criminal activity may be an extension of their relationship with their intimate partner.

Beth Richie discusses a model of African American women’s experiences of violence and their consequent entry into illegal behaviors that she developed on the basis of interviews with incarcerated women at a New York correctional facility. Richie persuasively argues that it is gender inequality, economic marginalization, criminal justice practices, racism, and violence against women that intersect to “entrap” women of color and send so many to our nation’s prisons with little access to the counseling and services they need to change their lives(1996).</p>

I don’t really have any friends. The only person I basically be with is my family and my man. And the only thing different about that is that because now that I’ve not worked in almost two weeks, it’s like he’s been on me, monitoring me if I had to take a cup around and urine for him to show him that I’m not trying to go back there. But he worries so much. And then we’re having financial problems. But it’s like stressing me out because of the constant asking me question about where am I going? When am I coming back? You know, that bothers me. But, other than that, we still love each other. But it’s just stressing us out. Because of me not being at work.
(DE, 2001)

Reconstructing relationships can be a source of healing, connection, and support that women exiting prison need. Although not necessarily an appropriate area for direct policy intervention, women’s ability to develop and sustain relationships that are affirming are important for helping them rebuild their lives. Healthy relationships become a crucial ingredient for a woman reconstructing her life after release from prison but as Richie reminds us, along with support for positive relationships there must be attention to the other complicated weaves of women’s lives that constrain their choices.

Finally, the retributive nature of incarceration results in women being separated from their children, their communities, and other sources of regeneration and positive support. Women’s contacts with people “outside the walls” can help them stay connected to goals and opportunities beyond their prison sentence. For example, a woman in a prison facility in Kansas got involved first as a participant, later as a co-leader in an educational group that was sponsored by a battered women’s shelter. When she came out of prison, she got her first job at the shelter that then provided her with enough stability to later able to buy a house.

Depending on the length of the incarceration, many women when first exiting from prison will say that they believe they have a tattoo on their forehead that proclaims them as “ex-con.” A former prisoner not only has to construct a new self, based on the personal desire to create a non-criminal life, but she also has to deal in some way with others’ expectations. Such expectations are often derived from ignorance, outdated notions, or judgmental preconceptions. Stigma feeds into the forces of isolation and denial that push women deeper into a self-hating process and farther away from the hope of rehabilitation and reintegration. As advocates, it is most crucial to explore how we can help women manage the societal stigma related to being a felon that is both real and perceived. An important aspect of managing stigma is making choices for when and how a woman discloses her ex-inmate status.

Like when you get out and you go try to get things and ok, you’ve been incarcerated and well, how many times have you been incarcerated? And you could say five, do they look up to you because you’ve been arrested so many times? Or do they look down on you because you’ve been arrested one time. You know, they don’t, they don’t stop and think that everybody makes mistakes and they could be in your shoes. Anything can happen. They don’t do that. I don’t care what they say, things do happen.
(AA, 2001)

Groups can be one method for women to discuss how they can deal with questions about having been in prison. The “everyone in the same boat” phenomenon can provide a mutually supportive context for women to effectively address some of the issues they will have to face once they are released.

Substance Abuse/Recovery

Due to punitive drug policies and enforcement, drug offenses now account for the rapid growth in the number of women in prison. Many women who previously would have remained in their communities under supervision are now being incarcerated. The Sentencing Project found that drug offenses accounted for half the increase in the number of women incarcerated in state prisons from 1986 to 1996, as compared to one-third of the increase for men. The number of women incarcerated for drug offenses rose by 888% from 1986 to 1996, in contrast to a rise of 129% for all non-drug offenses. African American and Latina women represent a disproportionate share of the women sentenced to prison for a drug offense. (Mauer, 1999)

Though some have referred to the incarceration of thousands in this country as an “addiction,” there is no question that drug use among female offenders is far greater than is represented by the numbers of those who are sentenced for drug offenses. For example, a study in Illinois found that though 43% of women were convicted of a drug charge, 75% of the women reported a substantial substance use problem, defined as daily use of alcohol or illegal drugs in the 30 days prior to incarceration (O’Brien & Bates, 2002).

Women’s severe and chronic use of illegal drugs is related to both individual and social difficulties. While their peers and intimate partners initiate some women into the world of drugs, others turn to drugs as a response to the emotional, physical, or sexual abuse they suffer during their childhood and/or as adults at the hands of intimate partners or family members.</p>

When I was raped for the first time (by uncle at the age of 11), my aunt told me to smoke a joint to feel better-I started drinking, going to parties.
(RW, 2001)

Regardless of cause, comprehensive drug treatment of at least 90 days has been demonstrated as effective. Research has shown that drug treatment when linked to aftercare, plays a critical role in the successful reintegration of ex-offenders into their communities. Nationally, it is estimated that only 25% of state and federal prisoners participate in either drug treatment or other drug abuse programs.

For many women released from prison, residential treatment programs constitute a critical step in their recovery process, and toward successful reintegration into society. Women who are unable to find housing may find that residential drug treatment programs provide a viable temporary alternative for them. A shortage of treatment slots coupled with increasing demand in the community may mean that women exiting prison will not have access to these facilities. In addition, the unavailability of residential care for children to accompany their mothers to the facility while the woman is engaged in treatment, means that women may be forced to choose between regaining custody (after they’ve been separated from their children while incarcerated) and treatment.

You know not everybody succeeds. So I’m feeling pretty good but I’m kind of caught up in the cycle because it’ll come back around. I’ve already had some of the classes. So actually by the end of next month, I’ll be done. Can you believe it? I’ve worked hard. I stayed on top of—the studies are very extensive here as well as my recovery program thing. Working with my sponsor. It’s going really good for me. At the beginning of this month, I was starting to get irritable. And so I kind of had a little withdrawal going on. And coming into a year clean on the 31st
(SC, 2001).


Single status, having young children, being a substance user (or a previous addict), and having less education than is necessary in today’s economy-all of these factors place women ex-inmates in a disadvantaged position when they have to complete with other women and men for employment. A significant number of women under criminal justice supervision have a history of low educational attainment. Since incarcerated people have limited educational opportunities while in prison, few women will have the necessary qualifications to successfully compete in the labor market immediately upon their release from prison. Although correctional institutions have increased the availability of general education programs (adult basic education and GED) available to prisoners, as of 1994, prisoners were declared ineligible for college Pell grants, leading to the inability of an increased number of incarcerated women to overcome their socioeconomic disadvantages prior to their release.

A low level of education may be exacerbated by race and ethnicity. The unemployment gap dramatically widens between African American and white women, and between Puerto Rican and white women, with low levels of education. Studies of prison vocational training and employment experience during incarceration indicate that there is often a mismatch between prison jobs and employment availability in the communities to which they will return. In addition, many states have laws restricting employment in various fields, generally childcare, security, nursing, and home healthcare, where “vulnerable” populations are concerned.

Of the multiple hurdles facing women finding employment, the reality of the stigma and bias that women who have a criminal record face is one of the most serious. Many employers are hesitant to hire applicants with conviction histories. When a woman’s criminal history is coupled with previous substance use, the perceived liability increases exponentially. This third rung of jeopardy (along with racism and sexism) increases the difficulties and frustrations of women who want to become self-sufficient and contributing members of their communities. Here are two women’s responses to the dilemma of answering the “conviction” question on a job application:

It was on there but I just left it blank. I did that because they are looking for people that are going to be long term and are very honest. So I did not want to put that in there and it looked like I was lying. So if they check her out and she was in prison before, I have nothing on that paper to say yes or no.
(LV, 2001).

I told them the truth, that I had been incarcerated and I have a felony record and I served my time and I need a change. You know, I’m a very reliable and dependable person and I just need a chance to prove to myself and to my God that I can do this. It was very easy there because T, one of the managers there was really understanding. He said there’s not many that tell you right up front what has happened. Like I told him, I’ve only been home two days. I need a job. I have a degree, but I’m not going to be able to get into that field for a few more years because of my conviction
(VH, 2001).

Strategies for change

While not a comprehensive discussion of all the issues that women exiting prison face this paper has presented key areas for discussion and action. The following section outlines strategies for creating alternatives to incarceration for non-violent and drug-affected women, and identifies specific policies that should be modified or nullified in order to give women exiting prison an opportunity to reconstruct their lives. Although this section is organized by the same headings previously discussed, it is apparent that these issues overlap with each other so that addressing one may also have a beneficial impact in another.

Support former women prisoners in reestablishing their families

We must advocate for changes in the following laws and policies to assist women in maintaining their ties to their children while incarcerated and provide the legal and economic support that will enable them to regain custody of their children, as they have the basic supports to do so, after their release from prison.

  • Repeal federal lifetime welfare bans under TANF. Short of federal repeal, there is room to push individual states to opt out of the ban or modify it (as Illinois has done linking this consequence to sales rather than a possession conviction)
  • Consider not only drug treatment programs that could allow women to maintain eligibility for TANF, but also alternative programs such as job training or GED programs following an in-depth assessment of their individual needs that could help with addressing the reasons they became involved with drugs.
  • Develop strategies aimed at informing women who are denied cash assistance and food stamps of the other benefits and services for which they are eligible, particularly Medicare, job training and employment programs.
  • Encourage use of TANF funding flexibility to target resources to assist ex-inmate women to secure job training and education on the state level.
  • Encourage and support formalized kinship care placements with family members with subsidy equitable to that of non-family foster care without restrictions on the time in care so that women can maintain their relationships with their children if not legal custody.
  • Require that child welfare authorities remain in touch with incarcerated parents so that they have every opportunity to attend hearings on the status of their children in state care.
  • Facilitate visitation between children and incarcerated mothers whenever possible.
  • Make appropriate reunification services available to incarcerated mothers beginning prior to release.
  • Explore alternatives to incarceration for nonviolent and drug-related offenses that could make child welfare intervention and child removal unnecessary.

The following recommendations address some of the structural issues that prevent women from having access to housing, the foundation of successful reentry.

  • Congress should consider increasing the stock of subsidized housing so that mothers reentering the community after their incarceration can have access to subsidized housing for their families to begin rebuilding their lives.
  • Public Housing Authorities should have the flexibility to begin evaluating evictions and admissions on a case-to-case basis, to look at mitigating circumstances, rehabilitation efforts, and to fully weigh the consequences of a loss of subsidized housing for a family.
  • For families with children, Public Housing Authorities could use the “best interest of the child” standard when determining whether to grant admission to a felon or evict families based on drug activity.
  • Create a comprehensive housing plan with women while they are incarcerated to help them secure housing upon release by augmenting existing resources for transitional, residential housing and investing in the development of affordable housing for formerly detained women.
  • Divert funds from prison construction and maintenance to building long-term shelters for women in transition from prison.

Reconstructing relationships

Affirming and mutually supportive relationships can reinforce women’s efforts as they engage in the process of rebuilding their lives.

  • Correctional facilities could assist women prisoners in maintaining contacts with positive people in their support system and to help them identify and develop free world contacts.
  • Correctional facilities could widen the scope of rehabilitation services available to address women’s multiple and complex needs related to distress and trauma in past relationships.
  • Programs for women within prison could assist women to draw upon each other’s strengths as they manage the incarceration and engage in post-release planning.
  • Association with other parolees after release should be considered on a case by case basis, as a potential source of support rather than a violation.

Stigma management and elimination

Actual and perceived stigma toward ex-inmates can have a debilitating effect on women’s efforts to “keep trying” to meet society’s expectations.

  • Pre-release classes could provide women avenues for articulating their fears and discuss the venues where women will be expected to disclose their ex-inmate status (e.g. job interviews, housing applications, etc.).
  • Reentry programs could make use of women’s ability to be mutually supportive in assisting each other to address some of the issues for managing stigma.
  • Public education efforts could include social marketing and media strategies to put a human face on rehabilitation programs and women who are successful in their reentry.

Address the complex nexus of substance abuse/addiction

As research and women’s own stories indicate, substance abuse is a primary issue in women’s involvement in the criminal justice system. Substance abuse treatment needs to be part of any comprehensive response to women, but it is not enough. Women’s entry into treatment is further complicated by the lack of child care, inadequate social support systems, and lack of financial resources.

  • Expand the availability of drug treatment both within and outside the criminal justice system that is connected to a continuum of care in the community after release.
  • Make welfare and education benefits available for persons convicted of a drug felony so they can build the skills necessary to secure employment with livable wages.
  • Create state-financed alternatives to incarceration for women convicted of drug offenses.

Increasing the odds for women supporting themselves and their familie

One of the indicators for a woman “making it” after release from prison is her ability to secure and keep employment. Parole violations and new crimes are often committed because reentering prisoners lack the skills and supports to adapt to community life. Many are unable to find employment not only because they lack significant work histories and work skills, but also due to the societal stigma related to their criminal and substance use histories. Typically, time spent in prison has weakened family and community ties. Without means of financial support or family and community networks, women released from prison are at high risk of returning to crime to support themselves.

  • Ensure that women released from prison have proper documentation so they can apply for transitional benefits and unsubsidized employment.
  • Ensure vocational training in and out of prison that is tied to viable labor market opportunities.
  • Educate ex-inmates about their rights and potential employers about the illegality and consequences of improperly rejecting job applicants with criminal records. Assist employers to understand how they can address their concerns about “negligent hiring.”
  • Educate potential employers and employees about the Federal Bonding Program that offers employers who hire ex-offenders bonding insurance that protects them from theft, larceny, or embezzlement.
  • Identify sources of transitional income that will assist women to participate in secondary and post-secondary educational programs to enhance their competitiveness in the job market.
  • Link women during their incarceration with job training centers in the communities to which they will be returning.

To improve reentry prospects of women in the transition from prison to home, and to ensure greater public safety, changes are needed that serve to delay or deny women who are ex-inmates access to vital social benefits, including grants or loans for education, transitional financial assistance, subsidized housing and viable employment. There have been billions of dollars spent for policing, surveillance, and prison construction but little investment in developing restorative structures for justice and accountability. Effectively responding to negative behaviors requires a commitment to social and economic justice as well as safety.