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Women, Re-entry and Everyday Life: Time to Work?. Venezia Michalsen, Ph.D. Assistant Professor, Montclair State University. A research project sponsored by The Women's Prison Association. The importance of re-entry.

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Women re entry and everyday life time to work l.jpg

Women, Re-entry and Everyday Life:Time to Work?

Venezia Michalsen, Ph.D.

Assistant Professor, Montclair State University

A research project sponsored by

The Women's Prison Association


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The importance of re-entry

  • Number of people released from State and Federal prisons has grown to 700,000 per year.

  • Successful re-entry benefits everyone:

    • Increased public safety

    • Lowered risk of re-incarceration

  • Successful re-entry is affected by many different elements:

    • Social support

    • Health and mental health support

    • Housing

    • Compliance with mandated requirements

    • Employment


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Re-entry and work

  • Re-entry literature often discusses the importance of employment to successful re-entry

  • High levels of unemployment among re-entering populations.

  • Commonly researched barriers to employment are stigma, low education levels and limited job skills.

  • The importance of time in finding and keeping work overlooked in the re-entry literature.


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Time use and work in re-entry

  • Time use is salient for re-entering population seeking to prioritize work among a host of other re-entry goals.

    • Time use reflects people’s choices, priorities and skills.

    • Transition from structured life in prison to relatively unstructured life outside of prison.


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The role of time in the lives of re-entering women

  • Women experience re-entry in unique ways that may influence how they use the time available to work.

    • Most women are primary caregivers of children before incarceration and cite family reunification as a primary goal.

    • Women are particularly likely to be incarcerated for crimes involving drugs, and the vast majority used drugs before incarceration.

    • Women are often released with extensive physical and mental health problems.


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This study: Research question 1

  • Do women returning home from prison or jail have enough time during the day to work?

    • How do scheduling demands produced by involvement with multiple government and social service agencies affect the time available each day for work?

    • Do the women think they have enough time during the day to work?

    • Do the women have sufficient time management skills to manage their days to include work on a regular basis?


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This study: Research question 2

  • How do the women’s own re-entry goals and priorities affect how they use their time during the day and whether or not they work?

    • Is work valued?

    • How do the women’s pre-incarceration employment histories shape their attitudes towards work?

    • Did the attitudes and experiences of people they lived with during their childhood years help socialize the women to value work?


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Sample and methodology

  • Sample: 33 formerly incarcerated women

  • Instruments:

    • Screening

    • Time Diaries for two days

    • Follow-up interview

      • Review of time diaries

      • Interview questions

      • Event history calendar

      • Genogram



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Types of Appointments

  • The women’s days are taken up by group meetings, supportive services and health-related appointments rather than government and criminal justice appointments.

  • Although 21 respondents report in the screening that they are currently searching for employment, the time diaries of only five respondents show evidence of such searching.


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Least-Scheduled (N=12) Two or fewer appointments over the 2 days36% of the sample; 12% of appointments

Semi-Scheduled (N=9) Three to four appointments over the 2 days27% of the sample; 24% of appointments

Most-Scheduled (N=12) Five or more appointments over the 2 days36% of the sample; 63% of appointments

Three subgroups




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Time matters: Women’s schedules are constructed in ways that do not allow them to work

  • For all three subgroups, the number of formal commitments to government and social service agencies is not overly burdensome for the majority of respondents

  • Appointments do not take up very much time in the day

  • Most appointments are kept in the middle of the typical business day

  • Appointments are neither clustered to accommodate a job before or after the appointments, nor spaced far enough apart to allow for work between the appointments


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Priority of Manifest Re-entry Goals that do not allow them to work


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The emergence of latent goals that do not allow them to work

I think all these appointments and time allow me to become more focused with things I needed to do, not to get distracted. I tell you, I can be very distracting… I didn’t have much time on my hands not to be focused. (page 83)

I find myself getting stretched like that, because I used to have a tendency of wanting to do everything in one day. And now I am becoming aware that the important things come first… all of it is important, but I have to prioritize, and just accept what is. So I don’t wear myself out. (page 91)


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Manifest Goals that do not allow them to work

For example, housing and employment

Mentioned by nearly everyone, usually as top priorities

Latent Goals

Minimize Stress

Take care of themselves

Stay out of trouble

While the respondents said they were working towards both set of goals simultaneously, our respondents are more likely to structure their days to meet their latent goals than their stated ones.

Addressing both sets of goals truly simultaneously is the key to helping women get employed.

The tension: Manifest and latent goals


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Ambiguity about the value of work that do not allow them to work

  • Support the idea of working for its functional appeal (e.g. money), though some also seek other returns

  • Childhood expectations that they would work

  • Work is associated with a positive self identity

  • Mixed messages from caretakers about work

  • Reluctant to take ill-paying jobs; illegal incomes are attractive

  • Many come from homes and neighborhoods where there are high levels of unemployment and/or dissatisfying employment

  • Sporadic work histories


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What does this mean for employment? that do not allow them to work

  • Perceptions of impediments to employment

    • Perceptions of stigma are overwhelming

    • Most have unstable job histories and low qualifications

    • Unprepared for the emotional impact of the job search

    • Perception that appointments impede time for job searching

    • Health problems

    • Unprepared to meet regular schedule required by employment


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Recommendations & policy implications that do not allow them to work

  • Schedules are structured in a way that does not allow for work

    • Provide centralized, neighborhood-based services

    • Help women learn how to structure their day in anticipation of employment

    • Teach women time management skills so that they can fit job-seeking and working into their schedules

    • Offer services outside the traditional 9 to 5 work day.

    • Examine the aggregate effects of time usage on communities

    • Introduce more activities, such as work, into women’s schedules gradually after re-entry. This will help women to redefine what it means to be busy.


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Recommendations & policy implications that do not allow them to work

  • The women believe their manifest and latent goals cannot be satisfied simultaneously

    • Teach women and service providers the ways in which employment can satisfy both manifest and latent goals

    • Educate women about the range of job shifts and types available

    • Determine how gender affects the priority service providers give employment

    • Help women to minimize stress associated with with the transition from highly structured time in prison to unstructured time in the community.

    • Create a structured drop-in program that provides support activities such as employment preparation and resume building. Activities should not become commitments, which themselves would not preclude employment.


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Recommendations & policy implications that do not allow them to work

  • Attractive employment is hard to find

    • Increase women’s ability to get better paying jobs

    • Increase the value of non-economic rewards for employment

    • Explore the possibility of contracting with for-profit organizations to reserve a fixed number of jobs for clients, similar to the way that agencies contract to reserve beds with emergency housing providers.


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What does this mean for service providers? that do not allow them to work

  • Work around clients’ potential work schedules.

  • Clients’ input about schedules and appointments.

  • Discuss the possibility of alternate shifts.

  • Counsel clients on the use of public transportation.

  • Counsel clients, or arrange for counseling, about time management skills.

  • Balance assisting clients with providing training in the skills they need to help themselves.

  • Teach, or arrange for clients to learn stress-management and relaxation strategies.

  • Discuss with clients how a job can meet goals other than obtaining money and satisfying parole requirements.


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Full report available at: that do not allow them to workhttp://www.wpaonline.org

For more information:

[email protected]

973.655.5154


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