Nation, World + Society

UCLA Law clinic’s report shows how to improve reentry to civilian life for incarcerated women

The report highlights needed improvement in housing policies and employment opportunities

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Women Beyond Bars
Todd Cheney/UCLA

The report was co-authored by UCLA Law faculty and students, and the California Institution for Women Think Tank, composed of current and former inmates.

Following a two-year collaboration with incarcerated and formerly incarcerated women, UCLA School of Law’s International Human Rights Clinic has released a report and recommendations on improving opportunities for formerly jailed women to return successfully to civilian life in Los Angeles.

The report highlights needed improvement in housing policies and employment opportunities to ensure that incarcerated women and their families successfully adapt to life after the women are released. It also highlights the need for public authorities to address the trauma that women experience during, before and after incarceration.

The report, “Women Beyond Bars: Reentry and Human Rights,” breaks down the root causes of recidivism among female felons in Los Angeles, identifies areas where local authorities are failing to accomplish goals in this regard, and offers practical recommendations for improvement. The report was co-authored by UCLA Law faculty and students, and the California Institution for Women Think Tank, a group of current and former inmates at the California Institution for Women in Chino.

The City of Los Angeles adopted the United Nations Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women in a 2003 ordinance, and the report embodies a human rights-based participatory approach to policymaking. The analysis and recommendations for Los Angeles are based on the insights of currently and formerly incarcerated women, who rarely have a say in the policy that determines their reentry life outcomes.

Nearly 10,000 women are released from state prison facilities each year, and more than 22 percent of those women return to prison within one year. Report authors articulated the most pressing needs of women facing reentry:

Employment. Returning women face key challenges in gaining stable employment: lack of access to education or training while they are incarcerated and an inability to secure jobs after release. The report notes that there is a marked disparity between jobs that are available to men and women who reenter society and that about 80 percent of employers in Los Angeles will not hire applicants who had been convicted. In response to this problematic situation, the report recommends that local authorities ensure equal access to employment, pursue partnerships with reentering women to address their specific needs, develop a strategic plan to take on this issue, and hold accountable people who violate the law in regard to discriminating against applicants with criminal records.

Housing. The report stresses that affordable and accessible housing is pivotal in a successful reentry because it helps women reunite with their families, address and manage trauma, feel secure that they can remain in their homes, and avoid external community threats that make it difficult to avoid recidivism. But substantial barriers exist in inadequate governmental assistance programs, such as the federal Section 8 Voucher Program, and discriminatory landlords. These may be overcome, the report recommends, through the development of a sound local housing strategy, promotion of meaningful consultation and participation with affected people, adoption of an approach that takes gender into account, and coordination between several local governments.

Members of the International Human Rights Clinic and the CIW Think Tank presented these findings and several other specific recommendations at an event launching the report on Nov. 30 in UCLA’s Kerckhoff Art Gallery. Panelists included UCLA Law Professor Tendayi Achiume; Bryonn Bain, a professor of African American Studies and World Arts and Culture/Dance at UCLA; Sarah Kim, a 2018 graduate of UCLA Law who worked on the project; and Wendy Staggs, a formerly incarcerated member of the CIW Think Tank. The event was co-sponsored by the Los Angeles Mayor’s Office for Reentry, which was among the partners in the production of the report.

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