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Black Women's Health & Self-Care in Reentry

A qualitative study to identify and understand the health needs of formerly incarcerated Black women who have or are transitioning home to their communities from confinement.


More than 230,000 women are incarcerated in the United States. Black women are not only disproportionately incarcerated, but also tend to experience worse health outcomes compared to White and Hispanic women. Mass incarceration may be an underlying cause of the persistent inequities in overall health, reproductive health, and mental health outcomes experienced by Black women. Lack of research examining the health of incarcerated Black women exclusively makes it difficult to know the actual breadth of racial disparities.

Although there is some research describing factors that support women’s reentry, few studies explore how women navigate returning home after confinement: What issues do they encounter? What factors inform decision-making and impact how women prioritize their needs? What services do they access and how? How else do they access care for themselves? Additionally, no studies approach these questions from an intersectional framework, exploring how race, gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age and geographical location interact to shape formerly incarcerated women’s health and reentry experiences—especially the experiences of Black women who are disproportionately represented within this population.

​NBWJI's Pathways to Wellness study is an opportunity to focus exclusively on Black women to advance understanding of race- and gender-specific factors that promote health and wellness among formerly incarcerated Black women returning to their communities from confinement. This qualitative research study will inform the development and accessibility of gender-specific and culturally-affirming reentry services in California and across the country.


Design & Data Sources

With support from an advisory committee composed of directly impacted women and staff from California-based organizations providing reentry services, the Pathways to Wellness study will conduct in-depth interviews with formerly incarcerated Black women in the state of California. Through these interviews, we aim to learn about health histories, priorities in reentry, self-care practices, barriers to care, and what formerly incarcerated Black women feel they need from their healthcare providers.

Funders & Partners

The California Endowment


  • Janae Bonsu: Project Manager and Principal Investigator

  • Sydney McKinney: Co-PI

  • Trevariana Mason: Research Associate

Contact Janaé Bonsu for more information.

Goals and Scope

The goals of this study are to:

  • Learn from formerly incarcerated women about their healthcare needs and how they access services.

  • Increase knowledge about and improve health outcomes of formerly incarcerated women. 

  • Expand the landscape of available services and facilitate healthcare access.


The study will answer the following research questions:

  1. Where does healthcare fit in formerly incarcerated Black women’s hierarchy of needs as they are returning to their communities?

  2. What health needs/concerns do formerly incarcerated Black women prioritize?

  3. How do formerly incarcerated Black women take care of their mental, emotional, and physical health?

  4. How are formerly incarcerated Black women gaining access to healthcare services (e.g., their relationships with these organizations? Informal network)? In other words, what’s their point of entry?

  5. What are formerly incarcerated Black women’s barriers to accessing healthcare? 

  6. How is formerly incarcerated Black women’s sense of dignity and self worth shaped by or otherwise affected by the healthcare system? 

  7. Has the COVID-19 pandemic had any impact on formerly incarcerated Black women’s health or perspectives on health?

  8. What do formerly incarcerated Black women need and desire from the healthcare system?