ORCID Identifier(s)


Graduation Semester and Year




Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work


Social Work

First Advisor

Jandel Crutchfield


The reintegration of justice-involved people into the community has emerged as a key concern of the criminal justice system as prison populations have increased globally. High recidivism rates indicate that prisons have not adequately prepared many prisoners for life after prisons. Over one million women are released from US jails and prisons each year and reintegrate into society (National Institute of Justice, 2022). These women will reintegrate into society with disproportionately high rates of mental health issues and women who leave jails and prisons with mental health issues face increased risks of experiencing substance use, risky behaviors, homelessness, and recidivism (Skeem, et al., 2006). And although recidivism is a complex phenomenon, research has shown certain practices and policies can reduce the tendency to reoffend (Bender et al., 2016). Addressing mental health concerns can reduce recidivism, but there little is known about how a mental illness diagnosis influences the reentry experiences of justice-involved people. Even less is known about how this impacts women specifically. The purpose of this study is to explore the re-entry experiences of justice-involved women who have a mental illness diagnosis. The study examined how a diagnosis of mental illness shapes justice-involved women’s interactions with reentry services and providers. An interpretative phenomenological approach guided the entire study: from the design of the interview guide to the collection of data through in-depth semi-structured interviews, and into the data analysis. Thematic analysis of the data resulted in three superordinate themes and seven subthemes: The first superordinate theme, ‘Negative experiences with reentry service providers,’ was comprised of two subthemes: ‘lack of support’ and ‘stigma of mental illness/otherness.’ The second superordinate theme, ‘Coping,’ was comprised of three subthemes: ‘substance abuse.’ ‘trust issues,’ and ‘practitioners as a positive resource.’ The final superordinate theme, ‘Internal Resources,’ was also comprised of two subthemes: ‘motivation for desistance from crime,’ and ‘the role of friendships/connections.’ The findings were compared with current literature on justice-involved women from an intersectional and ecological systems perspective to make recommendations for social and institutional change. Reentry service providers can use the findings to develop specific interventions for women who are transitioning back into society that not only addresses the stigma of incarceration, but also the compounding stigma of a mental illness diagnosis. This will allow reentry services to design a more supportive and evidence-based service delivery system to justice-involved people. Policymakers can decriminalize substance use-and mental health-related behaviors as well as fund mental health diversion and reentry services that promote access to mental health resources and supports.


Justice-involved women, Interpretative phenomenological, Challenging narratives


Social and Behavioral Sciences | Social Work


Degree granted by The University of Texas at Arlington

Included in

Social Work Commons