Incarceration nation, pt. 2: support women’s rehabilitation.

Welcome back to #incarcerationnation: women in prison part 2. Today’s #DailyRevolution is learning about what happens when women get OUT of prison, and getting involved with organizations, like the Women’s Prison Association, that help these women in transition.

Last week we discussed the gender disparities faced by women in the American criminal justice system. This week, we’re looking at the challenges incarcerated women face once they are back in the outside world. Here are a few of the obstacles that these women face beyond the prison gates:

  • Housing: Many landlords refuse to rent to people with criminal records, despite this being illegal. Safe housing options are harder to come by for women because women must worry about their physical and sexual safety - and some housing options put them at risk of harm.

  • Federal Benefits: The 1996 passage of the Personal Responsibility and Work Opportunity Reconciliation Act (PRWORA) imposed a lifetime disqualification of Temporary Assistance to Needy Families (TANF) and Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, previously Food Stamps) for people convicted of felony drug offenses. Some states have modified or opted out of this ban, but it remains in effect in several states and did not protect ex-convicts during the years before modifications occurred. Read more on the impact of the ban here.

  • Employment: It can be challenging to get a job with a criminal record. This means that feeding, clothing, and housing oneself or one’s children after receiving a felony conviction and serving one’s sentence can become incredibly difficult, if not impossible.

  • Family Life: Parents whose children have been placed in the foster system might be unable to regain custody of their children without a permanent residence or job.

Transitioning back into the community can be an uphill battle, especially for a woman and mother, who is more likely to be her children’s principal caregiver. Many turn (or return) to drug dealing or theft to survive and attempt to patch the pieces of their lives back together.

Since the tools, policies, and procedures prisons use to assess suitable intervention methods for inmates were designed for men, a need exists for the advocacy for and support of incarcerated women. There are organizations supporting this work that you can volunteer with and support around the country. Of these, the New York-based Women’s Prison Association (WPA) is the country’s oldest organization committed to helping women shape productive futures for themselves following incarceration.

WPA was founded in 1845 and established the first halfway house for women in the United States. Since then, it has been dedicated to supporting and guiding incarcerated women and their communities to improved and sustainable lives. WPA recognizes that all individuals within the criminal justice system need support before, during, and after serving their sentences, and prison programs rarely serve these needs. However, due to the different circumstances that lead many women to becoming incarcerated, as well as their different needs inside and once released from prison, WPA employs gender-specific assessment tools and methods to determine the most effective way to help women survive, stabilize, and become self-sufficient. For some women, the organization can provide the option of living in WPA’s stable housing facilities and working on rebuilding their lives in lieu of serving time behind bars. The Association also provides safe housing, transportation, clothing, food, mental and physical health support, sobriety sponsorship, family facilitation, criminal justice guidance, and senses of community, connection, and purpose.

You can support women in transition by volunteering with WPA either on a short- or long-term basis, or by doing your shopping via these merchants (which donate a percentage of the purchase to WPA).

 

*Bonus #DailyRevolution: Once you’ve researched organizations that support the needs of incarcerated individuals, pick the one that speaks to you, and post about it using the hashtags #incarcerationeducation #incarcerationnation.

 

Stay tuned for more posts on mass incarceration and the prison-industrial complex.


 

Suggested Reading:

Mapping The Way Home: Reducing Barriers to Women’s Reentry After Prison - Women and Prison: A Site for Resistance

Women's Prison Association - New York City Department of Homeless Services

Suggested Viewing:

Tamika: Justice Home - The Women's Prison Association

Norma - Fixing Yourself FirstThe Women's Prison Association

Lucy - The Women's Prison Association