After Incarceration: A Guide to Helping Women Reenter the Community

This guide provides an overview of promising practices that corrections professionals and community-based service providers should consider in supporting women’s transitions from correctional facilities to the community. With increasing rates of incarceration among women, there is a greater need than ever to integrate gender-responsive criminal justice approaches in re-release planning and community supervision. This document is a gender-specific complement to the SAMHSA publication Principles of Community-based Behavioral Health Services for Justice-involved Individuals: A Research-based Guide, which can provide more overarching guidance on what key principles should inform the work of community-based practitioners serving individuals involved with the criminal justice system.

As of 2016, over 1.2 million women in the United States were incarcerated in prison or jail, on probation, or on parole. Since 2000, the rate of women’s incarceration in jails rose over 26 percent, whereas the jail incarceration rate for men decreased by 5 percent. When women are released from jail or prison, they are often ill-prepared to reencounter and address the serious problems they faced prior to incarceration, such as victimization, an unstable family life, difficulties in school, limited work experience, financial issues, poverty, substance use disorders, mental health issues, a lack of vocational skills, and parenting difficulties. Women also tend to face new concerns upon reentering society, such as legal issues, financial restitution, and new trauma or re-traumatization that they experienced while incarcerated.

Gender-responsive criminal justice approaches acknowledge women’s unique pathways into and out of the criminal justice system. These approaches address social factors such as poverty, race, class, gender inequality, and culture. The promising practices presented in this document align with a theoretical framework that explains the complex dimensions of a woman’s experience when reentering the community following incarceration, and the steps it outlines align with this organizing framework to ensure a comprehensive approach to women’s needs during reentry.

This resource was first shared in 2020.

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