This study sought to identify factors associated with perceived housing stability upon release for female detainees. Almost half of female detainees reported a perceived lack of stable housing availability upon release. Familial support and a monthly income of $400–799 were significantly positively associated with perceived housing stability upon release; wanting a support group for issues surrounding engagement in sex work was significantly negatively associated with perceived housing stability upon release.
The increasing rate of female incarceration impacts the lives, families and communities of incarcerated women in ways that are only beginning to be understood. While prisons have made some progress in recent years in developing gender-responsive programming, female detainees may be less likely to benefit from such programs due to women's short tenure in jail and to the high volume of turnover in jails. Given the dearth of services in jails, this study sought to investigate social and material resource availability and factors associated with perceived housing stability upon release from jail settings. Having strong familial support and a monthly income of $400–799 independently predicted perceived housing stability upon release, while wanting a support group for issues surrounding engagement in sex work was negatively associated with perceived housing stability, after controlling for other factors.
Our sample was majority African-American, reflecting both the racial composition of Baltimore City and the overrepresentation of African-Americans in United States prisons and jails.22
Participants had been detained a median of over 1 month, suggesting that sufficient time does exist for interventions with detained populations. However the average length of stay in this sample was positively skewed by our failure to interview detainees in the quarantine unit.
Consistent with other studies, detainees were representative of the lowest socio-economic segments of our society, with over two-thirds reporting a monthly income less than $400 USD and nearly half lacking a high school diploma or General Equivalency Degree certificate. Our findings also support previous studies which have found high rates of HIV, drug and alcohol use, mental health diagnoses, homelessness and chronic diseases in incarcerated populations.6–10
While three-quarters of participants expressed a desire for drug treatment services, only 13% reported receiving treatment while incarcerated, illustrating a dearth of treatment availability within BCDC. The diagnoses (e.g., depression, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia) named by respondents are consistent with a similar study of female detainees in Chicago.8
Post Traumatic Stress Disorder has been shown to be common among female detainees8,23–25
but was not included in this questionnaire.
This study found recent daily heroin, cocaine and benzodiazepine use, lack of health insurance and inability to afford drug treatment to be associated with perceived housing instability upon release. This relationship disappeared when controlling for age, race and income. Strong familial ties were the strongest predictors of perceived housing stability upon release, outweighing the role of recent drug use and income. This supports previous research documenting the vital role of familial support for successful prisoner re-entry and suggests that interventions focused solely on sobriety may be less effective than those emphasizing family reunification.8,14,26
Friendship ties were not protective, which is consistent with previous findings that social ties may have deleterious effects in communities where there is a high level of overlap between drug and support networks and suggests the need for interventions that promote ties to pro-social networks.27
Approximately one third of the sample reported recent sex work, and one third identified as lesbian or bisexual. Wanting a support group for issues surrounding engagement in sex work was negatively associated with perceived housing stability upon release, suggesting that sex workers may be particularly isolated from social and economic resources that are protective for successful reentry after periods of incarceration. In an alternate model, identifying as lesbian was significantly negatively associated with having a place to stay upon release. The potential for disapproval of engagement in sex work and lesbian identity by social networks or service providers, indicates that targeted interventions may be warranted for these populations.
The data are subject to several limitations. The cross-sectional nature of this study limits the ability to determine the temporal direction of the associations found here. The study had a small sample size, which limited its statistical power, and lacked a male detainee or female prisoner sample for comparison. The exclusion of detainees in the booking and quarantine units resulted in average length of stay of 46.5 days, which is substantially higher than that of the 29 day average length of stay for female detainees reported by BCDC. Participants in this sample may have been unable to afford bail and may have come from a more socially isolated or economically deprived group. For this reason, our findings may not be generalizable to the quarantine population or to those who were released early on bail and who may have greater real and perceived social and material resources. Conversely, our exclusion of detainees in the medical unit and the few refusals by detainees who reported not feeling well may have underestimated the morbidity among the population, although this effect was probably minimal.
While research has shown Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) to be common among female detainees,8,23–25
this study failed to ascertain the prevalence of PTSD among participants. Questions regarding sensitive topics such as drug use and sexual risk behavior relied on self-report and may have elicited socially desirable responses. However, previous research has documented reliable self-report of HIV risk behaviors and recent drug use.28
The definition of housing stability used here included not having a place to stay, anticipating a stay of less than 30 days, and not knowing how long one could stay. A stricter definition of housing stability that compared respondents who had a place to stay upon release to those who did not suggested that identifying as lesbian was associated with an anticipated lack of housing upon release, but the model lacked statistical power due to sample size limitations. Alternate definitions of housing stability may have yielded different results. Additional research with larger populations of female detainees would assist in identifying factors associated with housing stability upon release from jail.
Despite these limitations, the findings presented here have immediate practical implications for informing service provision to current and former female detainees in Baltimore and other locales.
Female detainees have unique needs that warrant special attention. With nearly half of the sample anticipating a lack of housing stability upon release, pre-release planning efforts should be provided to connect detainees with affordable housing opportunities. Additionally, the protective effects of monthly incomes above $400 suggest a need for programs focused on income generation through employment, vocational training, and assistance with accessing public benefits. Given the centrality of familial ties, family-based interventions geared toward successful re-entry of detainees should be studied. With the potential for people leaving jail who identify as lesbian or who are or have been engaged in sex work to be alienated from their families, services should address the social vulnerability of these populations. Programs such as La Bodega in New York City provide promising models for incorporating families into successful prisoner re-entry.17
The periods of time that female detainees spend in jail are long enough to provide excellent windows of opportunity for intervention. Public health and corrections officials should work in collaboration to establish a continuum of care between jails and the communities to which detainees will likely return.29