Following her parole, Davina, 50, got a temporary job on a website contract, but her parole officer insisted that she find full-time work because, he said, contract work is “too non-traditional,” reported Alejandra Molina in the Riverside Press-Enterprise.
Another woman was called “lazy” by her parole officer for attending a trade school and not finding full-time work three months after her release.
“I’m trying to figure out my education so I can have a good job,” said the woman, identified only as Shonda. “I want to get my education right so I can have a career, not just get any old thing like cleaning toilets at a Jack-in-the-Box.”
Meanwhile, several other women who braided hair from home to supplement income said they were pressured to find “real” employment, because their parole or probation officers claimed braiding hair was not dependable work.
Sociologist Susila Gurusami listened to these women’s complaints and says their plight is part of a disturbing trend: Women leaving prison struggle to convince their parole officers that their employment choices are legitimate. Gurusami gave the details in a new report from the University of California at Riverside.
In particular, Black women leaving prison are facing stricter parole employment requirements in addition to a harsher labor market, the 2017 report said.
“There is a consistent underlying logic that seeks to devalue Black women, particularly through the labor market,” Gurusami wrote.
What constitutes real gainful employment is a subjective matter that state agents can interpret differently. A fast food job may resonate more strongly with a parole officer as “rehabilitation labor” than the pursuit of an education that could lead to reliable employment down the road, the sociologist wrote.
“For whatever reasons, it’s a lot more difficult for African-American women even accessing re-entry services,” Vonya Quarles, co-founder of Starting Over, a transitional housing program, told the Press Enterprise.
“It’s a lot more difficult for African-American women even accessing re-entry services”
There are not enough Black people in hiring positions working in service industries to extend opportunities to Black women, said Quarles.
Another woman in her 30s shared how her criminal record was a barrier to finding reliable work. After months of not working and bills stacking up, she started working at a strip club. Once her probation officer learned about her job, she was told she was not supposed to frequent places that encourage “immoral” behavior, or she would “find herself thrown back into a cell,” said the report.
The constant threat of re-incarceration by parole officers for not securing full-time work and the lack of employment opportunities cause some of the women to suffer from anxiety.
Approximately 9,000 people nationwide are re-incarcerated every day for violating parole and probation employment orders, according to the report. Black people represented 40 percent of the over-all post-release violations, but accounted for 70 percent for unemployment violations.
Gurusami’s report also highlighted a woman who was vaguely threatened with “consequences” from her parole officer if she was not home for daily check-ins with him. This order would prevent her from going to a temporary job. So the woman chose to go to work, citing her family needed the money.
Many of the women have turned to advocating for other incarcerated and formerly incarcerated people while they searched for full-time employment with little success, said Gurusami.
“It was close to being very difficult for me to find employment,” said Ingrid Archie, formerly incarcerated, now working as an advocate for A New Way of Life. “I didn’t find employment outside of the organization,” she told the Press-Enterprise.
A New Way of Life is a nonprofit organization helping formerly incarcerated women.
“Most women reported that parole or probation agents either had a neutral impact on them or presented an additional barrier in adjusting to life after incarceration,” the report noted.
Gurusami, 29, who is of South Asian heritage, spent close to 18 months with 35 formerly incarcerated women, 24 of them Black, at a South L.A. re-entry program. Most of the women were convicted for drug-related offenses or prostitution. Two of the women were convicted of homicide, but said they acted in self-defense.
As part of her research, Gurusami attended court hearings with the women, helped them with job applications, and drove the women to medical appointments then back home.