Supporting Black Women’s Reentry from Incarceration
California annually releases more women from prisons and jails than any other state. Women represent 20% of the total share of annual releases from the state’s prisons and local jails, and from 2009 to 2019, 1 in 4 people released from California prisons were Black.
When people are released from incarceration, community reentry centers or reentry programs are meant to help people successfully “reenter” society and reduce the risk of returning to jail or prison through support services such as assistance in finding and maintaining employment and housing.
However, most of these reentry services and post-release policies have been created primarily with men in mind—even though 1 in 5 people released from prisons and jails in California are women. This leads to programming gaps that pose significant risks to the success and well-being of formerly incarcerated women, especially those who are Black or of color, who face additional systemic barriers due to race and gender.
Black women’s experiences are unique: their precarious position in the overall structure, dynamics, and characteristics of society, caused by structural racism and gender-bias, makes them vulnerable to system involvement in the first place. Systemic oppression also shapes Black women’s reentry experience. Black women are more vulnerable to rearrest as targets of the police, and they have more difficulty maintaining stable housing and employment. Without support, formerly incarcerated Black women risk rearrest and reincarceration and have little hope of interrupting the cycle of criminal legal system involvement.
We recommend policymakers take action in the following five critical areas of reentry for Black women:
Address Black women’s basic needs and better prepare them for release
Provide gender- and culturally-responsive reentry assessment, planning, and care continuity to better prepare women to reenter their communities.
Ensure that women are equipped with basic personal care essentials upon release.
Increase the California Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation release allowance to an amount that accounts for present-day economic realities.
The United States Department of Agriculture Food and Nutrition Service (FNS) must grant California a statewide federal waiver to implement pre-release enrollment in CalFresh for individuals incarcerated in state prison or county jail.
Allow incarcerated people to have their birth certificates at no cost before they are released.
Increase Black women’s access to stable housing
Repeal crime-free laws that disproportionately exclude and evict formerly incarcerated Black women from housing
Enact statewide Fair Chance Housing legislation.
Invest in new and build the capacity of existing supportive housing, allowing for flexibility and innovation in how housing programs utilize funds.
Increase opportunities for Black women’s economic prosperity
Ensure that conviction history does not prevent qualified candidates from securing employment through additional protections beyond “banning the box.”
Raise the minimum wage.
Provide a temporary guaranteed basic income.
Eliminate criminal legal system debts.
Ensure that workforce development and employment-focused reentry programs include formerly incarcerated people without regard to supervision status.
Invest in the provision of gender-specific employment-focused reentry services.
Support the preservation and reunification of families separated by incarceration
Pass legislation that makes it easier for parents to plan for reunification during incarceration or residential drug treatment.
End timelines for termination of parental rights from existing law
Remove barriers to placement with non-relative or extended family members with conviction histories that do not endanger the child.
Support formerly incarcerated Black women’s health and well-being
Build the capacity of community-based providers to provide care coordination for people in carceral facilities that helps establish relationships with primary and behavioral health care providers, transition medical records, and set up community-based care before release.
Provide incentives for community-based primary and behavioral health care clinics to adopt trauma-informed, gender-responsive, and culturally affirming models to care for the reentry population and to hire community health workers with lived experience of incarceration.
Close the Medicaid coverage gap for people leaving carceral facilities across the country with federal legislation.
We dive into these recommendations and more in our new policy report, which centers the specific challenges that Black women face and their needs when they return to their communities from incarceration. We highlight promising practices and policy solutions, which are informed by interviews and listening sessions with formerly incarcerated Black women, surveys of California-based reentry organizations, and our own extensive research, review of the literature, and legislative analysis of reentry needs and services in California.
Black women’s success in reentry is not solely indicated by avoiding re-arrest or re-incarceration but is also characterized by the ability to establish stability, build and repair meaningful connections, and restore dignity and self-worth. The investments and policy changes outlined in our new report will help ensure that Black women returning to their communities from confinement have access to all of the resources they need to thrive.
To read our new policy report that gives full details on the issues concerning Black women, click the link below.
To read the executive summary, click the link below.