Overview and Inventory of HHS Efforts to Assist Incarcerated and Reentering Individuals and their Families . Incarcerated Women’s Transition Project (FY 2010-2012)


Type of Activity: The Incarcerated Women’s Transition project was developed to define a best practice model and a set of recommendations for gender sensitive services to meet the health/social needs of women/girls reentering the community after release from incarceration. The model may include developing programs and/or adapting key elements of existing programs to best meet the needs of women re-entering the community after release from incarceration. Currently programs and services available to transitioning offenders do not adequately address these gendered differences surrounding women’s incarceration in the context of women’s lives.

Funding Mechanism:  Contract

Total Available Funding:  $85,000

Number of Awards: 1

Award Amount:  $85,000

Length of Project Period: 2.5 years, September 30, 2010-March 30, 2012

Federal Partners: HHS Interagency Reentry Workgroup; Department of Justice

Summary: The purpose of the Incarcerated Women and Girls in Transition Project is to provide a comprehensive set of recommendations to articulate a model for creating, expanding and/or enhancing services that promote successful transition of women and girls back into their respective communities so as to promote the health of women and their families and communities which should also function to prevent recidivism. Federal, state and local governments cannot alone provide the full range of services required for successful reentry into the community. To that end, the recommendations developed by the contractor are designed for both public systems which incarcerate women and provide health and social services, as well for community-based organizations that are located in the communities where women released from prison will return with the purpose of creating linkages both pre and post release to ensure continuity of services.


There has been renewed interest in the provision of reintegration services to newly released offenders as a means to reduce rates of recidivism, increase public safety, and decrease financial costs associated with high rates of incarceration. However, the unique needs of transitioning female offenders are often lost in the conversation surrounding reentry. Attention to issues that affect female ex-offenders is especially important as the number of women entering the corrections system continues to increase.

The female prison population grew by 832 percent in the last three decades (compared to a 412 percent male increase during the same time period). This proliferation of the rate of female incarceration underscores the need for gender-specific services that adequately address the unique social, emotional, psychological and physical challenges that impede a woman’s smooth transition back into society.

The circumstances surrounding female criminality and incarceration are significantly different from those of males. Compared to half of all male offenders, two-thirds of incarcerated females were arrested for non-violent crimes. These are often economically-motivated offenses such as drug sales and burglary or theft. The pathways for women into criminality also differ substantially from those of men. The majority of female offenders have histories of trauma and abuse — 57 percent of women in state prison reported that they were physically or sexually assaulted at some point in their lives. Their trauma histories are often catalysts to the cycle of incarceration as victims of trauma are more likely to abuse substances. In fact, half of all women confined to state prison had been under the influence of drugs or alcohol at the time of the offense3 and 74 percent reported using drugs regularly before incarceration.

The majority of women in the correctional system come from poor, inner-city neighborhoods where many do not complete their education and work opportunities are scarce. Sixty-four percent of women entering prison do not have a high school diploma and half were unemployed at the time of incarceration. Those who do not enroll in job training while in prison remain extremely under-skilled to enter the labor market upon release, thus increasing incentive to participate in economically-motivated crimes such as theft and drug sales. Many incarcerated women have engaged in illegal activity as a form of work to support themselves, their children, parents, partners, and addictions. Incarcerated women risk recidivism when they return to their former vocation upon reentry.

The parenting responsibilities of women further complicate successful reintegration. Sixty-five percent of women in state and federal prison are parents of minor children, compared to 44 percent of men. Many of these mothers are single parents and most rely on family members, acquaintances, or state or county departments to care for their children during imprisonment. Indeed, the vast majority of incarcerated fathers (88 percent) report their children in the care of their mother, compared to only 38 percent of mothers who report the father as the primary caregiver. Single parenthood creates major obstacles for a transitioning woman as she often struggles to regain custody, find housing for herself and her family, and determine how she will earn a living, all while struggling with substance abuse rehabilitation.

Examples of current grantees:  N/A

Location(s) of Projects:  N/A

Evaluation Activities:  N/A

Future Prospects:  Special one-time appropriation


Michelle Hoersch
Office on Women’s Health, Region V
Phone: (312) 353-8122
Email: michelle.hoersch@hhs.gov

View full report


"index.pdf" (pdf, 703.66Kb)

Note: Documents in PDF format require the Adobe Acrobat Reader®. If you experience problems with PDF documents, please download the latest version of the Reader®