Defining Post-Release Success: Perspectives of Formerly Incarcerated Women

  • Author / Creator
    DeVries, Jessica L.
  • The number of incarcerated women continues to rise at alarming rates, increasing the pressure on an already overcrowded prison system. Although re-integrating women back into the community post-release should be of utmost importance, literature continues to document the many needs of women exiting prison and the difficulties faced in securing support while attending to competing priorities and demands. While understanding the realities women face post-release are essential to supporting women’s transition into the community, literature seeking to understand how formerly incarcerated women define success in life after prison is limited. In its absence, recidivism remains the primary if not only measure of post-release success. Although not returning to prison is an aspect of success, it is a limited measure that does not consider definitions of success that have importance to those with lived experiences nor take into account the complex and challenging process that is community re-integration. Therefore, this thesis explores how formerly incarcerated women define success in life after prison and describes the factors that support and inhibit women from realizing their goals. In partnership with a local not-for-profit organization, a community-based participatory research approach was utilized and engaged women throughout different stages of the research. A qualitative description methodology grounded in feminist standpoint theory and intersectionality was employed. When considering community re-integration as a journey, 16 interviews were conducted with formerly incarcerated women that explored their definitions of success. While achieving post-release goals were successes described by participants, this study points to the significance of personal transformation as a key definition of success critical to leading a life characterized by new values and priorities. Success was described in the day to day as women continued to engage in life in ways that moved them forward and attended to their health holistically. The importance of robust support networks, being engaged in the community, and receiving mental and emotional health support, among others, are identified as crucial supporting factors. The barriers, the lack of available mental health support, limiting parole conditions and staff, and the lifetime impacts of incarceration are described. While women continue to define their lives outside of prison walls that reflect their current conceptualizations of success, their understandings have yet to be adopted as true indicators of success by authorities mandated with facilitating their transition post-release. Therefore, implications to practice, programming, and policies are examined that take into account women’s experiences and perspectives. In particular, the provision of mental health support, recognizing measures of success beyond outcomes, removing systemic barriers, and mobilizing the community are outlined.

  • Subjects / Keywords
  • Graduation date
    Spring 2022
  • Type of Item
  • Degree
    Master of Arts
  • DOI
  • License
    This thesis is made available by the University of Alberta Libraries with permission of the copyright owner solely for non-commercial purposes. This thesis, or any portion thereof, may not otherwise be copied or reproduced without the written consent of the copyright owner, except to the extent permitted by Canadian copyright law.