A Debt Never Paid: The Difficulties of Being a Black Female Ex-convict

Women make up seven-percent of the total incarcerated population(largely for drug-related offenses)...

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Women make up seven-percent of the total incarcerated population(largely for drug-related offenses); however thirty-percent of incarcerated women are Black. Similarly to our male counterparts, Black women are three times as likely to be incarcerated than White women.

The purpose of our correctional system is for an offender to receive a punishment for their “crime against society." When the time has been served and the probation period is over, there is a common belief that ex-offenders are given an opportunity to rejoin law-abiding society. In reality there are many legal and social obstacles. These obstacles are doubled for Black Women who face challenges created by their race and gender.

“Have you ever been convicted of a crime?”, a yes or no answer that many people take for granted when they are able to respond in the negative. If the answer is ‘yes’, complications arise. A year after leaving the correctional system only 4 out of 6 women are able to find employment. Forcing ex-convicts to disclose their convictions is used to filter them out as candidates. The question as it is presently posed does not take into account the type of offense or the amount of time that has passed since their conviction.

The question influences more than employment opportunities, this question appears on applications for public housing as well. The Housing Opportunity Program Extension Act established in 1996 allows the Public Housing Association to request conviction information from law enforcement to screen applicants as well as evict current tenants. Ex-offenders are often legally found ineligible for public funds such as school grants and loans. These are just a few of the 4c’s : Collateral Consequences of Criminal Conviction.



Black Women have been proven to be at the receiving end of bias when looking for employment and housing; it is an undeniable consequence of the prejudicial leanings surrounding Blackness in America. Black women who have been convicted of a crime find themselves in two stigmatized groups which is a recipe for social and financial damnation.

Black female ex-convicts often leave families and young children at home waiting for them. When these women re-enter the community they regain the expectation of contributing to their families. Initiatives such as HRA's Back to Work program helps ex-offenders and others with job readiness skills. However, even as these women try to prepare themselves for the workforce; their chances of gaining agency remains slim. In some cases this may even increase the likelihood of recidivism,which is beneficial to no one.

The social stigma surrounding Blackness is finally coming to the forefront. Blackface and the exploitation of Black’s in the media is becoming increasingly unacceptable. Like racism, the prejudice surrounding ex-offenders is inbred into our culture. The way ex-criminals are discussed in our cultural dialogue needs to change in order to help these women gain agency in their lives.

When our image of an ex-convict changes from a big-bad guy to a struggling mother that is apart of our community, more people will advocate for correctional reform. When society decides that the debt has been paid once the time has been served. The lessening of legal restrictions will allow these women to transition into society instead of remaining outliers.

Required Reading: Arrested Justice: Black Women, Violence, and America's Prison Nation

Photo Credit: Getty Images


Electra Telesford is a writer who resides in Little-Manhattan(Brooklyn). She is finishing(starting) the Great (okay) American novel. Her life musings can be found at culturalcutlass.weebly.com. Feel free to contact her at Telesford078@gmail.com or follow her on Twitter @Electra_Teles

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