Journal of Urban Health: Bulletin of the New York Academy of Medicine, Vol. 83, No. 3
* 2006 The New York Academy of Medicine
Release from Jail: Moment of Crisis or Window
of Opportunity for Female Detainees?
Rachel L. McLean, Jacqueline Robarge, and
Susan G. Sherman
ABSTRACT Despite extensive documentation of the reentry challenges facing female
prisoners, few such studies have focused on women exiting jails. The Window Study
investigated factors associated with the perceived availability of stable housing upon
release from detention. Anonymous surveys were conducted with a random sample
(n = 148) of female detainees at the Baltimore City Detention Center from January 21
to March 17, 2005. Interviews focused on socio-demographic background, health
status, recent drug use and sexual behavior history, and material and social resource
availability upon release. The median age of female detainees was 37 (interquartile
range [IQR]: 29, 41), 69% were African-American, and 33% identified as lesbian or
bisexual. The median income in the 30 days prior to arrest was $145 (IQR: 0, 559),
and the median number of prior arrests was 5 (IQR: 3, 11). In the presence of other
variables familial support (Adjusted Odds Ratio [AOR] 2.57; 95% Confidence
Interval [CI] 1.21, 5.47) and a monthly income of $400–799 (AOR 3.18; 95% CI
1.00, 10.07) were positively associated with perceived housing stability upon release;
wanting a support group for having traded sex for money, drugs or a place to stay
(AOR 0.25; 95% CI 0.10, 0.63) was significantly negatively associated with perceived
housing stability upon release. This study suggests the importance of pre-release
planning and continuity of care for female detainees. Interventions should emphasize
access to housing, economic opportunity and family reunification. Special attention is
warranted to those who have engaged in sex work, who may be marginalized from
family and service-based support networks.
KEYWORDS Commercial sex workers, Detainees, Female, HIV, Housing stability,
Injection drug users, Jail.
The number of females incarcerated in the United States rose by nearly 50% from
68,468 in 1995 to 101,179 in 2003.1Since 1995, the average annual growth rate of
female imprisonment has grown 5%, exceeding that of 3.4% for males during the
same period.2Rising rates of incarceration among females have prompted the exam-
ination of gender specific factors related to imprisonment. Females are significantly
more likely than males to be in jail for non-violent offenses,3,4such as larceny,
fraud and theft, and drugs possession and sales.4Females are more likely than
McLean and Sherman are with the Bloomberg School of Public Health, Department of Epidemiology,
Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, MD, USA; McLean and Robarge are with Power Inside, Baltimore,
Correspondence: Rachel L. McLean, 615 N. Wolfe St., E6543, Baltimore, MD 21205, USA. (E-mail:
This project was made possible by funding from the Albert Schweitzer Fellowship Program, the V.
Louis Stuckey Family and the Abell Foundation.
males to be unemployed at time of arrest4and to be diagnosed with substance abuse
disorders.5Almost half of female detainees in a national survey of local jails report
histories of childhood sexual abuse; over 10% report experiencing intimate partner
violence.4Seventy percent of women in local jails have children under 18, making
childcare and custody a primary concern.4As with males, large racial disparities in
incarceration rates persist among female prisoners, with black females Bmore than
twice as likely as Hispanic females and nearly five times more likely than white
females^ to have been in prison at the end of 2003.1
In addition to differing from incarcerated men, female prisoners also differ
from their non-incarcerated counterparts. Compared with adult females in the gen-
eral population, incarcerated women are more likely to experience substance use,
mental illness, intimate partner violence, HIV risk behaviors,6HIV, hepatitis B and
hepatitis C infection7and homelessness.8–10Furthermore, female detainees who
report being homeless upon arrest also report higher numbers of previous arrests,
substance abuse, prostitution-related charges, and difficulty accessing drug treatment.8
Upon release, female prisoners face numerous challenges including housing,
employment and family reunification.11–13Evidence suggests that female prisoners
entering the community having maintained strong familial ties while incarcerated
have improved re-entry outcomes and reduced recidivism.14,15However this pro-
tective effect can be mitigated by the inability of areas heavily concentrated with
poverty to effectively integrate high volumes of recently released prisoners;
particularly in cities such as Baltimore.16
Jails detain people for under 1 year, often prior to sentencing, whereas prisons
incarcerate people for longer terms. The experiences of prisoners upon reentry
cannot be generalized to detainees exiting jail because Bjail inmates are housed for
relatively short periods of time, are not eligible for prison programming, and are
not subject to post-release supervision.^17Consequently, little is known about
whether the predictors of successful reentry for females leaving long prison terms
are the same for female detainees leaving jails settings.13
This study sought to examine factors associated with perceived social and
material resource availability upon release. Specifically, this study sought to
examine female detainees’ anticipated availability of stable housing upon release.
MATERIALS AND METHODS
We conducted a cross-sectional study of 148 adult female detainees in the Baltimore
City Detention Center between January 21 and March 17, 2005.
The Baltimore City Detention Center
In 2004, BCDC housed 8,351 female detainees, released 8,300 female detainees,
and had an average daily population of 661 female detainees with an average length
of stay of 29 days (personal communication, Cortez Rainey, April 19, 2005).
Detainees are classified according to health needs and security risk. High risk
detainees are housed in the protective custody unit; detainees with acute health
conditions are housed in the medical infirmary units; those sentenced to drug
treatment are housed in a separate, acupuncture facility; pregnant women are
housed in the maternity dorm. In addition, there is a Therapeutic Community dorm
which houses 33 detainees, who are drawn from the general population by
RELEASE FROM JAIL: MOMENT OF CRISIS OR WINDOW OF OPPORTUNITY FOR FEMALE DETAINEES?383
The authors wish to thank Commissioner William J. Smith, Deputy Commissioner
Howard Ray, Assistant Warden Danny McCoy, Mr. Cortez Rainey, Sister Patricia
Ash, the Office of the Public Defender and the staff at Baltimore City Detention
Center for their assistance. We would also like to thank interviewers Katherine
Locke and Stephanie Oppenheimer, Courtney Wilburn and Christopher Martin for
their dedication and time, Melissa Klein, Erica Woodland, Fusion Partnerships and
Natalie Sokoloff for their support, and Nancy La Vigne and the Urban Institute for
their permission to build upon their previous work. Most of all, the authors wish to
thank the women who participated in this study for privilege of letting us hear and
share their stories.
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