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The Bars That Bound Me: A Study of Female Parolees


Halfway houses are thought to benefit offenders as they transition out of prison into society yet research on transitional living facilities is lacking. In this dissertation, I begin to address this gap in the literature by combining ethnographic observations of a state-funded halfway house for female parolees with interviews of women who reside there and the lead staff and interns that assisted them. I found that the house rules and regulations, which are dictated by the funding source, can impede the residents' ability to successfully reintegrate into society and puts them at a greater risk of official sanction. Nevertheless, most of my respondents were grateful for the opportunity to reside at the house because they lacked familial support and access to financial resources.

In this study, I also highlight my respondents' experiences immediately before and after their release from prison. The majority of the women who lived at the house reported receiving little tangible assistance from pre-release counselors or parole agents. Despite this, half of the women characterized their parole agent as helpful because he or she provided words of encouragement. Likewise, those who described the halfway house as beneficial highlighted the emotional support they received from staff and social work interns.

In addition to investigating the residents' perceptions of the halfway house and their experiences before and after imprisonment, I also explore the social work interns' assumptions about the residents and their barriers to reentry. When the interns began their internship they thought of the residents as dangerous criminals and they believed that the women merely needed to make better behavioral choices in order to avoid returning to prison. However, by the end of their time at the house, they identified a number of challenges that made it difficult for their clients to successfully reintegrate, which suggests that folk theories are dynamic and influenced by interpersonal interactions. This dissertation contributes to our understanding of how women experience reentry, how they perceive the services available to them, and how service providers respond to and interpret the challenges female parolees encounter.

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