Formerly incarcerated women's reentry, employment, and “rehabilitation”
This dissertation fills critical gaps in the literature on women’s reentry with three studies. The first study examines the reentry and job-seeking experiences of formerly incarcerated women who began living at a halfway house during the COVID-19 pandemic. I interviewed women multiple times during their stay and after they left the halfway house. I found that women used various coping techniques to navigate challenges brought on by the pandemic. These coping techniques are categorized as flight, fight, and freeze. The second study is an experimental correspondence audit study using resumes of fictitious formerly incarcerated women seeking employment after incarceration. I applied for entry-level jobs in Prince William County, Virginia and varied resumes by applicant race, conviction status, and the presence or absence of a desistance signal in the form of a career readiness and job skills certificate. Results show no statistically significant differences in employer callback rates between black and white applicants, applicants with and without a criminal record, and applicants with and without a desistance signal. The third study examines the meaning of “rehabilitation” from the perspectives of the women interviewed in the first study. During their interviews, women were asked: “In your opinion, what does it mean to be rehabilitated?” Three conceptualizations of rehabilitation emerged from their answers: living responsibly, actively engaging in an ongoing coping process, and self-actualization. All three studies contribute to the literature by examining the reentry and job seeking experiences of formerly incarcerated women, providing insight into the job search process by applying to jobs formerly incarcerated women would typically seek upon release from custody, and allowing formerly incarcerated women to define “rehabilitation” for themselves.