On August 11, Aventiv Technologies joined the Jenesse Center for a community discussion on how to best support a group that society often forgets—formally incarcerated women.
Both Aventiv Technologies and the Jenesse Center have long track records of advocating for the formally incarcerated. This panel was brought on to discuss what barriers these women face when it comes to re-entering society, as well as explain what can be done to create intentional pathways to employment for these valued members of society.
The event titled “Working Women: Life After Incarceration” took place at McCoy Memorial Baptist Church (803 E. 46th St. Los Angeles, CA). Elected officials as well as civic and community leaders came together with the corporate sector to answer many of the questions and problems formal female inmates face.
“Working Women: Life After Incarceration” was separated into two separate panels—one dedicated to discussing the role of government agencies, and the other discussing the roles of public and private partnerships. Combined, the “Working Women” panel included eight panelists who all have lived experience in working with women who’ve been incarcerated as well as the systems that involve them.
The panel was moderated by KJLH Personality Adai Lamar, and introductions were given by County Supervisor Holly Mitchell. The eight panelist included: Abigail Marquez (General Manager, community Investment for Families Department, City of LA), Caroline Torosis (Senior Deputy for Economic and Enforce Development, Holly Mitchell), Jane Oates (President WorkingNation, Former Assistant Secretary for the US Department of Labor), Jasmine Tarver (Director of Workforce Development, Jenesse Center), Dr. Julianne Malveaux (Dean, Ethnic Studies, Cal State LA), Alisha James (Senior VP & Manager, Aventiv Technologies, Post Incarceration Business Unit), Elizabeth Alva-Rajakumar (In-House Staff Attorney, the Jenesse Center), and Natasha White (Employment Services Coordinator, A New Way of Life Re-Entry Project).
“We’re doing everything we can do make sure Los Angeles County lives up to the passed Anti-Bias initiatives,” shared County Supervisor Holly Mitchell. “This is a crisis that we just haven’t been able to get right, and I think it’s because we’re women. We’re often failed by systems.”
Mitchell continued, “But this fight starts the moment you’re put into the system and continues even after one is incarcerated.”
This issue has become a national crisis. All women and panelists were passionate of the fact that all incarcerated people need support upon release. This is extremely necessary for women because many of our mothers, aunties, and sisters are left behind and forgotten.
Oftentimes, women are expected to do more with less, and forced to deal with the limited resources provided to them. One of the questions being, how can the community best help incarcerated women, the women took the time to answer in the following ways:
“From a governmental lens, we need to make it easier to access service,” stated Caroline Torosis. “It takes most incarcerated people up to a year to find employment, so we need to work with employers, and work with them directly to get people hired. Holly Mitchell’s Office is working to assist people in getting to the baseline of how to get educated on services for incarcerated people.”
Jasmine Tarver stated that the Jenesse Center assists in bringing new-released citizens to the present. “When a women returns, she’s not aware of the changes in the world. Whether it’s how to use modern-technologies or how to find a job, we work to assist them in any way possible.”
Tarver explained the community could also best assist these women by welcoming them with opened arms. “We should welcome these women back and help them in any way we can. Assist them in watching their kids and take them to appointments. We can also look at the resources in our own communities and ensure that churches and community groups have the money to give to these people. These women will give back.”
Abigail Marquez retorted that the best way to help incarcerated women is to recognize their trauma. “[The community] needs to acknowledge that the justice system has failed a lot of people, and it’s our [government] responsibility to listen and approach our work from a place of trust instead of regulation. We need to shift how we approach this work.”
California stands by a new coalition Care First Jails Last, and officials are working diligently to ensure that they put their money where their mouth is and put these initiatives in Action. Even the panelist mentioned are working endlessly to change this system for the better. They pushed the ideas of the system meeting people where they’re at instead of expecting people to work with rules that were never made for them.
“We should be telling these women, upon release, to take a deep breath. To focus on their families and their social networks because, at the end of the day, they’re who will make you mentally stable,” said Tarver.
The panelist also touched base on the positive reinforcements that could come along if case mangers actually sat and made extensive life plans with these incarcerated women.
“The mindset around these women needs to be changed,” said Jane Oats. “The system [as well as those who work in it] should be pouring humanity and positivity into these individuals. There’s a lot of humanity, in dealing with the system, but people don’t always act as though they’re working with humans. When someone goes into the system we should want to know that there’s a moment they’ll return as productive members of society.”
“[Case mangers] should care, and be willing to work with you, while understanding that you’re going through a transition,” Tarver continued. “You had dreams before you were incarcerated that can still be accomplished now. It’s just about finding the right resources and support.”
The panelists discussed a number of ways to enhance the life of incarcerated women even before they’re released. Simple ways, such as goal planning from the moment one is incarcerated to advancing the technology in our prisons, could enhance these women’s likelihood to become viable parts of society, as well as their own communities.
Even topics around the mental health of incarcerated women were discussed, and how to best serve women who may be struggling and in need of support.
“A plan on what happens when you get out should be started the moment you get into the system. Why don’t we do that?” questioned Oats.
With this, it is important to acknowledge that just by having these challenging conversations, bringing this topic to the table, is far more than other US states are doing in regard to helping formally/currently incarcerated women and men. The state of California has made immense strides in progressing the lives of the formally incarcerated, such as making it legal for incarcerated people to vote upon release.
“California has ways to go, but we’re far ahead than most,” said a panelist.
For more information on resources for formally incarcerated people, visit the Aventiv Technologies’ website: https://www.aventiv.com. For more information on the Jenesse Center visit: https://jenesse.org.