Release From Jail: Moment of Crisis or Window of Oportunity for Female Detanees in Baltimore City—from the "Window Study"

Release From Jail: Moment of Crisis or Window of Oportunity for Female Detanees in Baltimore City—from the "Window Study"

Power Inside is a multidisciplinary program that is committed to building self-sufficiency and preventing incarceration among women and families in Baltimore through direct client services, advocacy, leadership development and public education. In 2005 the program released a study titled The WINDOW Study, Release from Jail: Moment of Crisis or Window of Opportunity for Female Detainees in Baltimore City. The goal of The WINDOW Study was to document the lives of women detained at the Baltimore City Detention Center (BCDC) in order to inform gender-responsive policies and programs. This report summarizes the findings of 148 anonymous interviews conducted by public health graduate students with adult females detained in BCDC between January and March, 2005.

The study identified the needs of women being released from incarceration. Among these housing stands out as a basic and much neglected necessity. Housing stability was defined as a participant knowing she would be able to stay at her destination for at least thirty days. Using this definition, only 54% of the women interviewed had stable housing awaiting them upon release. One in four women did not know where she would be staying when she got out. Many reported having permission to stay being contingent upon sobriety. Eleven percent expected overcrowding, and no working telephone; and 2% did not having running water or electricity (suggesting that they were planning to stay in an abandoned house). Four women reported having been evicted since their arrest due to non-payment of rent.

Prostitution is a leading cause of arrest for female detainees. Twelve percent of female detainees held on June 30, 2004 had been arrested for solicitation (Cortez Rainey, personal communication, April 19, 2005). Of the women interviewed, 34% had traded sex for money, drugs or a place to stay within the 30 days before their arrest. Twenty-seven percent of women interviewed reported they would like a support group to deal with issues surrounding past engagement in commercial sex work. These women were also four times less likely to have a place to stay upon release.

Female detainees face a myriad of challenges upon release from jail. Principally, women need housing, health care and drug treatment to stabilize their lives before they can even begin to think about the employment and education that are needed to sustain them. The women interviewed value their families. For women, family reunification, custody restoration and childcare are primary concerns. In addition, women often need support surrounding trauma and intimate partner violence. Those with strong family relationships were significantly more likely to have a stable place to live when they got out of jail, as were those who felt they lived in safe neighborhoods. The WINDOW Study identified a need for developing a continuum of care that addresses the immediate needs of women exiting pretrial detention, principally, affordable housing, drug treatment, economic opportunity, assistance with entitlements, and education. Particular attention is needed for women struggling with addiction, lesbian and bisexual women, and those engaging in commercial sex work that may be less likely to receive familial support.

The WINDOW Study—Rachel McLean, MPH with Jacqueline Robarge and Susan Sherman, PhD

For the full report go to