The Impact of Incarceration in State Prison on the Employment Prospects of Women
This paper uses a unique data set constructed from two sets of administrative records to examine the relationship between incarceration and employment rates for former female state prisoners from Illinois. Our analysis indicates that although prison is associated with declining employment rates during the quarters leading up to women's incarcerations, it does not appear to harm their employment prospects later on. In the short-term, we estimate that women’s post-prison employment rates are about four percentage points above expected levels. However, these employment gains do not persist and gradually fall back to pre-prison levels. But for some groups of women, including those with four or more children, those who served longer prison spells, and those who served time for person-related or drug-related offenses, we find that modestly positive employment effects that are on the order of a few percentage points persist. These results indicate that time out of the work force or diminished skills are not costs associated with incarcerating women. Nor does a prison record appear to send an undesirable signal in the labor market that reduces former female inmates' employment chances. Although incarcerated women’s subsequent employment rates are very low, they do not appear to be low because of their experience in prison.
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