Rebecca Morgan is a human resources associate at Televerde, a marketing company in Phoenix that has a partnership with the Arizona prison system. She is also a convicted felon, but no one would guess that after having a conversation with her.
“People hear ‘prison’ and they just think of what they saw in the movies,” Morgan said.
Arizona’s female prison population has increased by 60 percent in the last 10 years, according to a report by the Women’s Prison Association.
Marie Sullivan, the President and CEO of Arizona Women’s Education and Employment, Inc., said this increase can be partly attributed to a higher rate of prosecution for drug-related crimes, which usually have a mandatory prison sentencing.
Whether or not the crime is drug related, women who are reentering society after prison face different challenges than men do.
Men can usually find jobs in construction or other labor-intense areas of employment, Morgan said. These jobs pay well but are not an option for women.
Sullivan said over time, employers have become stricter about hiring people with a felony conviction. Arizona Women’s Education and Employment, Inc. offers assistance with the job searching process, which has been made even more difficult by the economic recession.
“Women get very easily discouraged,” Sullivan said. “Rebuilding the self-esteem is critical.”
Morgan said many employers might not be aware that they receive a tax benefit for hiring people with a felony conviction. She added that women in transition after prison can be ideal employees because they are in such need of work.
“They’re really going to value that job,” Morgan said.
Securing a job is not the only challenge women face with re-entry into society. Shawn Lamb, TOPS Manager at Televerde, said women often experience sensory overload after living such a structured life in prison.
“There are cars moving, people moving, there’s color. Even the TV is sensory overload,” Lamb said, adding that women in transition often have trouble making everyday decisions since they had minimal options in prison.