Women’s incarceration around the world has been rising at an alarming rate, and the challenges they experience after release from prison are complicated. The rate of women's incarceration in the United States is higher than any other country in the world.
According to a report of the U.S. Bureau of Justice Statistics on the prison population, in the year 2018, 4% of the world’s female population lives in the U.S.; however, 30% of total incarcerated women in the world live in U.S. prisons, which is the highest among all countries.
Women's incarceration is growing each year, but they receive fewer resources than men from the community and the state after their release. Their transition from incarceration to the community is full of challenges, such as getting a decent job, acquiring safe and affordable housing, having public assistance, suffering from health problems, and the challenge of reintegration with their family and community.
Formerly incarcerated women confront the negative attitudes of the community. According to an article in the Journal of Feminist Criminologypublished in 2019, "Women are associated with emotions, which are considered to be unpredictable and uncontrollable and thus in need of intervention." Therefore, they need sympathy and care from their family and community. However, instead of getting love, sympathy, care and mental support, they receive ill treatment from their neighborhood. They not only fight to construct their identity but also to gain trust from people. Furthermore, the stigma of society toward incarcerated women fosters a self-hating attitude and limits their ability to lead a healthy life.
Another challenge that formerly incarcerated women face is finding a legal and well-paying job. Employers are reluctant to offer good jobs to formerly incarcerated women because the employers think that they do not have the necessary education, training and skills to perform the job correctly.
Although some of the women are fortunate to obtain jobs, salaries for these jobs are not sufficient for them to lead a standard life. Additionally, very few community-based programs are available to support them. Meanwhile, the government has downsized the public services such as public-housing facilities and education grants for formerly incarcerated women, which makes their situation near abysmal.
According to a 2013 article in the UCLA Women's Law Journal, the scarcity of welfare assistance has an impact on the next generation as well. Often, newly released women prisoners cannot reconnect their family ties, as they do not have a job or other legal income source to provide basic needs to their children. Thus, they have to send their kids into the child welfare system or hand them off to "burdened" family members.
This jobless condition, along with a history of a felony conviction, separates the women population from the labor force and other social-welfare benefits, which ultimately influences the health, education and overall well-being of their children. In addition, formerly incarcerated women lack skills, confidence and education to confront the challenges for proper re-entry into the mainstream community. Furthermore, legal obstacles worsen their condition since felons with "state or federal felony drug offense[s]" are precluded from obtaining "food stamps and cash assistance."
Homelessness also fosters problems for formerly incarcerated women, such as getting involved in prostitution, sexual victimization, and separation from family members. According to the Chicago Coalition for the Homeless, in their "snapshot" survey of women detained at Cook County Detention Center in 2015, women without a home were six times more prone to go to prison than women who have a home.
Policymakers should focus on correctional approaches instead of punitive actions to address the aforementioned challenges. Incarceration does not bring about any good for these inmates other than putting them in a situation to recommit criminal offenses.
The correctional approaches may include but are not limited to strengthening community services, providing public housing, giving counseling services, proper education and removing the obstacles (elimination of barriers for formerly incarcerated women to get a job). Along with ensuring a smooth re-entry process for the formerly incarcerated women by providing them education, training and other social safety-net programs, mass awareness campaigns among community members to accept ex-prisoners should be launched by the state or other NGOs to remove negative attitudes toward formerly incarcerated women.
To make policies more women-friendly, the federal government could invest money in providing social services, job training, drug treatment and community-based correctional centers. Overall, we should ensure a smooth re-entry process for ex-women prisoners by removing social stigma, giving education and training, and providing social services such as public housing, education grants and health facilities.
Md. Mahbub Or Rahman Bhuyan is a master's student of sociology at Ohio University. His specialization is criminology and criminal justice.