The Need for Support
“Each time I went to prison, it didn’t better or help me. It just showed me a different way to hustle…I didn't know about no re entry. They gave me four flat years, let me do them four years and then put me out. And then left me with the words “Oh, you will be back." – Zina Mitchell, Persister
Women freed from incarceration are often ill-equipped to transition home. The secondary effects of their convictions, such as suspension or termination of public assistance, affordable housing, and Medicaid, pose additional challenges to returning women. Though Louisiana is revising its approach to re-entry after enacting reform legislation in 2017,[i] for decades imprisoned women have left incarceration worse off than when they entered. Incarcerated women face significant barriers to returning home including the lack of family support and great challenges to obtaining employment, appropriate post-release housing, and treatment.[ii] To fulfill it’s “rehabilitative” purpose, states offer a range of re-entry programming, occurring both within and outside of the prison or jail. Re-entry programming may include education, employment/training, housing, treatment for mental illness and substance abuse, and family support components.
Compared to incarcerated men, women in jails and prisons have fewer opportunities to participate in re-entry programming. First, Louisiana women overwhelmingly serve their state sentence in local jails, where there are fewer programs, instead of state prisons. In Louisiana, 70% of women endure their sentence in a local jail. [iii] Second, women may be barred from program participation because correctional officials assign them a more restrictive custody status.[iv] Experts in corrections have raised concerns that custody status determinations are not gender-informed and therefore may over-estimate the disciplinary risk of incarcerated women.[v] And third, historically, women’s correctional facilities are under-resourced compared to male facilities, limiting a woman’s access to programming and treatment. [vi]
The experiences of women and numerous studies confirm that re-entry programming works. Women who receive educational, employment, housing, and treatment assistance are less likely to return to prison than those who do not. [vii] But the studies also demonstrate that the levels of assistance provided do not meet the needs of imprisoned women returning home.[viii]
There are some recent developments in Louisiana. In 2017, the Louisiana Act 265 lifted the ban on welfare benefits for people returning home from prison for drug offenses and Act 262 simplified the process for people with criminal convictions to obtain certain occupational licenses. In addition, Louisiana added computer-based testing and education to at least 3 local jails as well as the Louisiana Transition Center for Women. While there is currently no single, coordinated effort for re-entry transitional housing for women in New Orleans, there are a number of community organizations that do offer assistance. These are listed in our information kiosks in the exterior lobby of the museum, and linked below.
“That's the worst when you get out of prison and you have nowhere to go. That is the absolute worst. Because you've been in prison for how long? So you lost everything. You have no clothes, you have nothing. You lost everything. And you're starting to try and start life over.” – Lea Stern
Please note this is not an exhaustive list and new organizations will be added as they are brought to our attention.