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The Uniqueness of Women’s Reentry

Did you know that at any given time 190,600 women and girls are locked up in prisons and/or jails here in the United States? 

This number was recently published by Prison Policy Initiative in their updated report “Women’s Mass Incarceration, the Whole Pie 2024.” While incarceration impacts all people, tearing them away from their families, damaging their health, and putting an additional financial strain on those already living on a razor’s edge, the criminal legal system can be particularly harsh for women in unique and damaging ways. In fact, some of the issues that cause women to be incarcerated to begin with – poverty, unmet physical and mental health needs, drug misuse, and trauma – are just exacerbated by their experience in prisons and/or jails. 

This Women’s History Month, it’s crucial to delve into the distinctive challenges that women face when reentering society after serving time in prison. The path to reintegration is complex and multifaceted, and for women, it demands a unique set of considerations. This blog post aims to shed light on the nuanced journey of women’s reentry and the comprehensive strategies needed to support their successful transition.

Navigating the complexities of women’s reentry should have a focus on empowerment, education, and community support. There are unique challenges women encounter, and reentry strategies should go beyond the traditional approaches that have historically worked for men to return home successfully. Like all persons who commit crimes, women require adequate screening and assessment for recidivism risk, criminogenic needs (addressing conditions likely to cause criminal behavior), and responsivity to treatment. However, the reality is that the majority of risk assessment instruments are designed for males and not for women. As a result, the Women’s Risk and Needs Assessment (WRNA) was developed as a set of gender responsive actuarial risk assessment tools designed to properly account for women’s risk factors, or criminogenic needs, associated with recidivism and future misconduct.

Trauma-Informed Care

An emphasis on the importance of trauma-informed care in women’s reentry should be top of mind. Many women in the criminal justice system have experienced trauma, and addressing these underlying issues is crucial for successful rehabilitation. By adopting trauma-informed approaches, reentry programs can create a safe and supportive environment, recognizing and responding to the unique needs of women on their journey to healing and reintegration.

Holistic Support for Families

Women often play central roles as caregivers within their families. The significance of holistic family support cannot be ignored, as a successful reentry is not an individual pursuit but a collective effort. By incorporating family-focused initiatives, there is an importance of restoring and strengthening the bonds between women and their families.

Gender-Responsive Programs

Tailoring reentry programs to the specific needs of women is a key focus. Recognizing the gender disparities in the criminal justice system, there is a need for gender-responsive initiatives that address the unique challenges faced by women. From healthcare to vocational training, these programs are designed to empower women with the skills and resources necessary for a successful reentry.

Employment Opportunities

Securing stable employment is a critical factor in the reentry process, so the importance of creating equitable employment opportunities for women cannot be underscored enough. By addressing gender-based discrimination and providing targeted vocational training, reentry programs can empower women to overcome the employment barriers often associated with a criminal record. 

Education and Skill Development

Education is a powerful catalyst for empowerment, and there is a need for accessible educational resources for women reentering society. By providing opportunities for skill development and education, reentry programs can equip women with the tools necessary to navigate the job market and build sustainable, fulfilling lives.

At Breakthrough we have a commitment to creating a more equitable and compassionate reentry process for women. By implementing gender-responsive strategies, advocating for trauma-informed care, and fostering holistic family support (71% of our participants are parents), we can contribute to a society where women’s resilience and potential are recognized, celebrated, and given the space to flourish beyond the challenges of their past.

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