Hope in the Darkness: How Women Navigate and Perceive Employment After Incarceration



Richards-Karamarkovich, Arden

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Stemming from “tough on crime” era policies and the expansion of mass incarceration, women’s contact with the criminal legal system has grown substantially in the past decades (Chesney-Lind, 1991). Research suggests women are disproportionately more likely to experience substance abuse, mental and physical health disorders, poverty, have children and experience victimization than their male counterparts (Hall et al., 2013; Taxman & Cropsey, 2006; Chesney-Lind, 1991). Despite women’s increasing contact with the criminal legal system and their specific needs, equal treatment has long been viewed as fair treatment (Taxman & Cropsey, 2006). To better address women’s needs, it is important to research how gender impacts experiences within the criminal legal system. The purpose of this research is to explore how women experience and perceive employment and reentry opportunities following incarceration. This study uses data collected via in-depth semi-structured qualitative interviews with formerly incarcerated women. This research suggests that women experience a variety of barriers to employment, including their criminal records, gender, health, pay, satisfaction, and the COVID-19 pandemic, and experience complex emotions and challenges in their reentry. However, despite these barriers, many women ultimately found success in their reentry and employment and maintain an autonomous and optimistic outlook on their lives. These findings support research on the effects of criminal legal contact on employment and partially support research on gendered barriers to employment. The theoretical and practical implications of these findings suggest the need for future research into mechanisms of change, such as turning points and empowerment models.



Gender, Women, Reentry, Employment