Statistically, women usually do worse than men economically after their return from jail to their communities. Jail also tends to be more emotionally and fiscally destabilizing destabilizing for women, according to a variety of recent reports.
This is in part because of additional barriers women face upon release, such as primary or single parenting responsibilities, and lower pre-jail income than men, all of which can make it more difficult to secure stable employment, decent housing, and financial independence.
It doesn’t help that—while a jail environment isn’t particularly healthy for anyone—it is a system that is generally designed for men, with few programs that are aimed specifically at helping women with their gender-specific challenges.
With this and related issues in mind, on Tuesday, Oct. 16, the LA County Board of Supervisors voted to develop a proposal for “a comprehensive, trauma-informed and gender responsive job training program” to be inserted into the Century Regional Detention Facility in Lynwood, CA—the county’s main women’s jail, and one of the nation’s largest women’s jail facilities.
According to the motion, the program will aim to give tools to the jail’s female inmates before they are released, which will be specifically designed to help them succeed in finding employment when they get out.
Ideally, wrote the motion’s authors, Supervisor Sheila Kuehl, and Supervisor Mark Ridley-Thomas, the pre-release jobs program will create, not just a strategy for finding a job, but it will also will help women access employment that has the potential to become a career.
Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas point to a study published by the U.S. Department of Justice, which found women often face unique and challenging barriers to employment after serving their sentence,” particularly if they are a custodial parent for children—which many of them are.
According to a 2016 report by the Vera Institute titled Overlooked: Women and Jails in an Era of Reform,” nearly 80 percent of the women in jails are indeed mothers. But, unlike incarcerated men, they are, by and large, single parents, solely responsible for their young children.
In addition, women face specific challenges in returning to their communities from incarceration as a result of high rates of poverty, low rates of employment, and lack of affordable child care. This combination of factors makes it more difficult for returning women to find housing for themselves and their children.
Part of the problem, wrote Kuehl and Ridley-Thomas, is the fact that, in general, women coming out of jail are often under-or unemployed, work fewer hours and make less per hour than their male counterparts, and often in temporary, low-level, or entry-level jobs with little chance for advancement.
Specifically, reports show that 60 percent of women in jail did not have full-time employment prior to their arrest— in contrast to incarcerated men, 40 percent of whom lacked full-time employment—according to a very comprehensive 2016 report by the Vera Institute of Justice. And nearly 30 percent of incarcerated women receive public assistance, compared to just under 8 percent of men.
Not surprisingly, women who are not financially independent are more likely to recidivate.
And since, nationwide, unemployment among formerly incarcerated Americans is far, far higher than for the general population, pre-and post-release employment services are critical to reduce recidivism and help those coming out of jail or prison to quickly integrate back into society.
This is particularly true for women.
Interestingly, the county recently opened a similar job preparation center for men at Pitchess Detention Center. The proposed new job center program at CRDF, according to the motion, is intended to address the “unique barriers to employment” faced by women.
“Women often need to overcome an extra set of barriers because they may lack employable skills and may also be the primary caretakers of their children,” said Kuehl. “We can’t expect people to rebuild their lives if they’re not given a fair shot at a steady good-paying job.”
“Having a job center within a jail would exponentially increase the second chance opportunities for women in our criminal justice system,” agreed Ridley-Thomas.
Thus, the motion, he said, will trigger the development of a program to “provide these women with the job skills, training, and trauma-informed support they need to successfully reenter society and rebuild their lives.”
Ridley-Thomas’s reference to “trauma-informed” support is key for such a program in a women’s jail. As WitnessLA has reported in the past, many if not most women in the nation’s jails are survivors of physical and sexual abuse, which can make jail a far more trauma-producing environment for women than it is for their male counterparts.
For instance, one early study showed that, among State prison inmates 1 in 20 men were sexually abused before age 18. Among women inmates, it was 1 in 4. Regarding physical abuse, 1 in 10 male state inmates reported being physically abused. For female inmates, again it was 1 in 4. Additional studies, such as the 2017 Bureau of Justice Statistic report, suggest the numbers are very bit as bad if not worse for women in the nation’s jails.
Abbe Land, director of the County Women & Girls Initiative, was optimistic about the proposed new program for the county’s often troubled women’s jail.
“Despite the fact that there’s been a dramatic rise in incarcerated women around the country, prison and jail programs often overlook women’s unique needs,” Land said. “I’m very happy to see the county address this critical factor in reducing the number of women who cycle in and out of jail because they have not been able to secure steady employment after they’ve been released.”
Specifically, the just-passed motion directs the county’s Department of Workforce Development, Aging and Community Services (WDACS), in partnership with the County CEO, LA County Sheriff, LA County Probation, the Office of Diversion and Reentry—and a list of other agencies—“to evaluate the feasibility of establishing a Jail Based Job Center” at CRDF—and report back to the Supes within 90 days with their collective findings.
These “findings” are supposed to contain a general design that includes everything necessary to create the proposed new program—from curricula, to resources, to how the whole thing will be paid for.
Let’s hope it works.