Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

More Than a Job Club, Sister: Career Intervention for Women Following Incarceration

Academic journal article Career Development Quarterly

More Than a Job Club, Sister: Career Intervention for Women Following Incarceration

Article excerpt

Issues related to mass incarceration in the United States are regular topics in both scholarly and popular discourse. This is not surprising given that "in 2012 about 1 in every 35 adults in the United States . . . was on probation or parole or incarcerated in prison or jail" (Glaze & Herberman, 2013, p. 1). Although women compose only 6.7% of the total population in state and federal prisons, women in 2012 constituted 24% of the adults on probation and 11% of adults on parole (Federal Bureau of Prisons, 2015; Marushak & Bonczar, 2013). These women are returning citizens, a term preferred over ex-offender because it resists objectification.

Despite the centrality of social justice to career development, most research on employment and returning citizens comes from sociology and criminology (Brown, 2011; K. M. O'Brien, 2001). Career counselors are in a unique position to contribute positively to women's reentry and employment success, yet there remains a dearth of research in this area (Brown, 2011; Shivy et al., 2007; Thompson & Cummings, 2010). The present study aims to address this gap in the literature by using interpretative phenomenological analysis (IPA) to examine the lived experiences of eight female returning citizens as they participated in It's More Than a Job Club, Sister, a spiritually integrated career intervention. Spiritually integrated career interventions place meaning and purpose at the center of vocational guidance by recognizing that many individuals' religious or spiritual beliefs structure their worldviews, emphasizing fulfillment of purpose through "being" as well as "doing," and encouraging the pursuit of vocations with prosocial ends.

Women and Incarceration

Women's and men's pathways to crime and experiences behind bars are distinct. Incarcerated women are more likely to be serving time for drug offenses rather than violent crimes and are disproportionately African American, over the age of 30, and at least high school graduates or holders of a General Equivalency Degree (GED; P. O'Brien, 2001). They are overwhelmingly mothers, with 70% of women in prison having young children at the time of incarceration, and they are more likely than incarcerated men to have mental health problems (Berman, 2005; Greenfeld & Snell, 1999). Following incarceration, women typically return to their neighborhoods and families only to face numerous barriers to successful reentry, such as finding housing and legitimate income; reconnecting with family and children; addressing substance abuse issues and physical and mental health concerns; and meeting parole requirements (Berman, 2005; P. O'Brien & Young, 2006).

The Impact of a Criminal Record on Employment

Numerous factors negatively affect one's employment prospects following incarceration. Parole conditions often require returning citizens to reside in the communities from which they came, which can limit access to public transportation, industries using their skill sets, job openings, and peers who provide connections to the "world of legitimate work" (Holzer, Raphael, & Stoll, 2003, p. 6). Returning citizens' educational experiences can also function as barriers to achieving employment. Although 14% of women in state prisons have had some college-level education, 42% have not completed high school or the GED (Harlow, 2003). Many vocational training programs in prisons are "limited to low prestige, low paying, gender-traditional occupations such as cosmetology, sewing, and food preparation" (Chartrand & Rose, 1996, p. 344). These factors can negatively affect women's self-efficacy and thus their employment prospects.

Female returning citizens' employment histories and prospects can also serve as a barrier. Over 53% of women were unemployed at the time of their arrest (Morton & Snell, 1994). In addition, although state laws vary, it is common for returning citizens to be permanently or temporarily restricted from working in many licensed health care and trade professions (American Bar Association, 2013; Thompson & Cummings, 2010). …

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