Employment and the Post-Release Puzzle: The Lived Experience of Securing Legitimate Work among Women Released from Prison in New Zealand
As incarceration rates continue to rise in New Zealand (The Department of Corrections, 2019b), the number of people being released from prison will also rise. Life sentences are rare and therefore, the majority of people who are sent to prison will, at some point, be released to reside in the community again. Despite this, individuals are leaving prison unprepared for life on the outside, and they face a range of barriers as they try to establish new lives for themselves in the community. Employment is often cited as a stabilising factor after prison, a factor which can help a person to rebuild their life and become a contributing member of society. However, having a criminal history can negatively impact employment prospects, making employment difficult to obtain, especially in an increasingly competitive employment market. Thus far, research looking at employment after prison, and at prison and the post-release period in general, has been largely centred around men. Women and their specific needs are often overlooked in the research and in the criminal justice system due to their lower incarceration rates, and solutions, policies and practices are often created with men in mind, then adapted slightly to ‘fit’ women, without much real recognition of women’s different needs (Baldry, 2010; Mills, Kendall, Lathlean, & Steel, 2013). Therefore, the research undertaken for this project explores the role of employment in the lives of women who have recently been released from prison, looking at the benefits of and barriers to employment through the lived experiences of those who are in the post-release period, with a goal of adding to women-focused literature, which is desperately needed. Through semi-structured interviews, and guided by a feminist methodological framework, I drew on this lived experience of the participants and put their voices at the forefront of the research findings. The key finding was that while employment is vital for long-term success after release, the benefits of employment extend far beyond financial security, and employment is one piece of a post-release puzzle, which without the other pieces, is relatively useless on its own. A more holistic approach is needed in the post-release period to promote success.