UCR researcher discovers black women plagued by employment disadvantages post-prison

UC Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Fellow, Susila Gurusami, found that black women face more challenges than any other category of people in Los Angeles when trying to find employment after release from incarceration. Her findings were consolidated into her article “Working for Redemption: Formerly Incarcerated Black Women and Punishment in the Labor Market” and recently published in the “Gender and Society” journal.

Gurusami spent 18 months at a South LA reentry home, where she was able to develop a concept she calls “intersectional capitalism.” She defines this theory as a “systemic process of demoralizing and dehumanizing racialized and gendered bodies for their exploitation and punishment through market logics.” She was able to come to this conclusion because of many different factors that have been leaving black women at greater disadvantage than other formerly incarcerated populations. She labeled these factors as “rehabilitation labor,” or the requirements that are enforced by parole officers in post-release employment.

There are three requirements that jobs must satisfy, per Gurusami’s article: “It should be reliable, in that it must produce consistent, long-term financial benefits, and therefore cannot be contract or insecure work; recognizable, in that it must be legible to state actors as employment in a convention workplace setting; and redemptive, in that it must be perceived as contributing to the broader public good.”

The women in Gurusami’s article expressed their frustrations because “the collective impact of their health, education and felony record” made it extremely complicated to find stable work. They said they also struggled with other issues such as “mental illness, disability, history of abuse and elementary literacy skills.” All of these significant barriers posed more trouble than financial instability because employment was key to staying out or going back to prison.

Gurusami blames “this process of equating morality to employment and the concept that employment produces a moral transformation that can lead to legal transformation.” Failure to meet the harsh requirements of rehabilitation labor can result in reincarceration and does not allow them to shed their criminal histories and state surveillance.

She also brings in question several other cases where race, gender and sexuality played a pivotal role in the decisions that policy makers made. For example, the water crisis in Flint, Michigan, Donald Trump’s recent attempts to ban transgender people from serving in the military and a Tennessee judge’s offer to reduce jail time by 30 days in exchange for temporary or permanent sterilization.

Gurusami hopes “we can understand all these issues as connected by intersectional capitalism.” She also proposes a possible solution to these issues by putting the $182 billion that the US government spends on mass incarceration to better use by investing in these communities and their future.

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