Abstract: The Relationship between Trauma and Post-Release Employment for Incarcerated Women (Society for Social Work and Research 25th Annual Conference - Social Work Science for Social Change)

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303P The Relationship between Trauma and Post-Release Employment for Incarcerated Women

Tuesday, January 19, 2021
* noted as presenting author
Joi D. Anderson, PhD, Assistant Professor, Winthrop University, Rock Hill, SC
Ronald O. Pitner, PhD, Interim Dean of the College of Social Work and Associate Dean of Curriculum, University of South Carolina, Columbia, SC
Background and Purpose

Previous studies reported trauma experiences for incarcerated women, defined as pre-incarceration trauma [PIT] in this study, being as high as 90%. Likewise, 30.9% of women in federal and state facilities were survivors of sexual victimization, and 58.1% were survivors of corroborated staff-on-inmate sexual victimization defined as incarceration-based trauma [IBT]. Despite the prevalence of trauma for incarcerated women, few studies have included trauma-related cognitions in their analyses. Trauma-related cognitions [TRCs], a criterion for a diagnosis of PTSD, often results in distorted views about self [TRC-Self], feelings of guilt and blame [TRC-Blame], and a sense of being unsafe in the world [TRC-World]. Research suggests that untreated PTSD leads to verbal and memory loss, learning impairments and attentional dysfunction that can provide roadblocks to securing viable employment which we define as vocational readiness-motivation [VR-Motivation].

Research Questions

  1. Are there differences between PIT, IBT, and PTSD severity in their ability to predict TRCs in a sample of incarcerated women?

  1. Are there differences between TRC-Self, TRC-Blame, TRC-World and PTSD severity in the ability to predict VR-Motivation in a sample of incarcerated women?


A cross-sectional research design was employed using a stratified random sampling procedure. The stratum was housing security levels 1 through 4. The study was conducted in three prisons in the United States. Self-administered questionnaires measured PIT, IBT, TRCs, PTSD, and VR-Motivation. The study sample included (N = 250) female inmates ages 18 to 73. Ages 40-49 (32.2%), and 29 or younger (31.8%) represented the majority of the sample population. Approximately 61% of the participants were White, 20% were Black, 5% were Latina, 7% were Biracial, and 5% were Native American and/or Pacific Islander.


Question 1: Overall, the independent variables in the model were statistically significant predictors of trauma-related cognitions. TRCs were positively associated with higher levels of PTSD severity. Demographic variables in the model were not significant predictors of trauma-related cognitions.

Question 2: Our findings indicated TRC-Self was the strongest predictor of VR-Motivation. This result is in line with prior research that has shown TRC-Self as having more influence in the development of PTSD severity than TRC-World and TRC-Blame. Moreover, for Black and Latina women, higher levels of TRC-Self were predictive of a lower potential for VR-Motivation.

Conclusions and Implications: Prior research found that income from employment was associated with a 24% reduction in rearrests. These results suggest that the ability to gain viable employment is important to the reintegration process. This is particularly important for women of color who are often incarcerated in facilities where there are fewer vocational programs and higher levels of TRC-Self resulting in a lower potential for VR-Motivation, as indicated in this study. Black women often return to communities facing the same challenges they faced prior to incarceration, such as unemployment, poverty, addiction, and abuse. This is compounded by psychiatric disorders associated with trauma and PTSD, limited work experience, education, and training opportunities. Hence, it is pertinent to address these issues in a more comprehensive way.