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Blog, Policy briefing | 05 August 2021

Worst-Case Scenario: Fighting battles on multiple fronts

How are you supposed to find work or get your life back to normal while you’re in and out of court fighting for custody of your children? As Jess told us, “they make you fight, and fight, and fight to get your life back.”

In our last blog we looked at how racism in the criminal justice system harms women’s chances of finding work, and how discrimination in accessing paid employment sets racially minoritised women back.

Unfortunately, that’s far from the end of the story. Instead, racially minoritised women are often fighting battles on multiple fronts whilst looking for work and trying to rebuild their lives. It’s a complicated picture, where all of these experiences intersect to create the 'Worst-Case Scenario'.

Social stigma of having a conviction

Racially minoritised women already face stigma and discrimination as a result of their ethnicity and their gender. A conviction only makes matters worse.

Sometimes, racially minoritised women suffer acute stigma or shame after they receive a conviction from their own communities. Experiencing shame affects women’s resettlement, since it can prevent women from reintegrating into their communities, and hamper their attempts to go back to a “normal” life.

Research has suggested that Muslim women in particular face rejection or community isolation on leaving prison, likened to a ‘second sentence’.

Experiencing shame and isolation stands in the way of women thriving in their futures: it prevents women from applying for and getting the jobs they’re capable of doing.

Low self-esteem might mean they don’t feel good enough to even apply, or it might prevent them from truly shining during recruitment processes or at interviews. The impact of this “second sentence” can follow a woman for a long time after her sentence is over.

They make you fight, and fight, and fight to get your life back.

Working Chance client

Repairing family life

Convictions also have a huge impact on family life. This disproportionately affects women, who are often the primary caregivers, and is even worse for racially minoritised women. In the UK, 2 in 5 Black families consist of a single parent with dependent children, meaning that Black women are more likely to be responsible for childcare.

The increased chance of receiving a conviction has a huge impact on these families. As we saw in the last blog, Black women are more likely to be over-policed and receive harsher punishment, so the children of these women will unnecessarily suffer.

When convicted of a crime, many mothers lose custody of their children. Battling in court to retain or even regain custody of your children whilst looking for work is exhausting and often simply not feasible. Racially minoritised women often report feeling ‘othered’ in family courts, meaning that they feel marked out as different or less deserving of respect.

Even if mothers do have custody of their children, caring responsibilities can mean women simply don’t have the time to work or even begin their job search. In the UK, eight times as many women as men are not in paid employment due to caring responsibilities for children and others.

Don’t forget about mental health

Mental ill-health and unemployment often go hand in hand. Experiencing racism or discrimination increases the chance of conditions such as depression, which is also exacerbated by risk factors such as poverty and higher rates of unemployment.

A growing body of research suggests racially minoritised people are at greater risk of developing a mental health condition, with racism playing a factor.

An independent review into the Mental Health Act showed that a significant number of Black people only come into contact with mental health services via the criminal justice system – as opposed to through their doctor.

Adults of Black African and Caribbean heritage are more likely than any other ethnic group to be detained under the Mental Health Act.

Black women in particular are criminalised. And they are perceived as aggressive, instead of treated for their mental ill-health. Racially minoritised women are being punished, rather than offered the care they need.

Black women in particular are criminalised. And they are perceived as aggressive, instead of treated for their mental ill-health.

Getting into work: the missing building blocks

Volunteering is a good way for individuals to build their CV, and develop their skills. For Chloe, volunteering was crucial to rebuilding her confidence after her conviction and helping her to kickstart her new career.

“After prison, volunteering helped me regain a sense of purpose and routine in my life. I gained new skills and experience, which meant I could get up to date references for future employers. But more importantly, volunteering made me feel accomplished and proud."

However, these opportunities are often less available to racially minoritised women, which only serves to entrench inequality.

Evidence shows that racially minoritised people have poorer volunteering experiences than their white counterparts, and report being less likely than white volunteers to continue volunteering in future. Cultural barriers for potential volunteers, such a daunting application forms, lack of interest in diversity and inclusion and negative attitude from staff or other volunteers all result in poorer volunteering experiences for racially minoritised people than their white counterparts.

When we look at access to apprenticeships the picture is largely the same. Racially minoritised workers are 23% less likely to obtain an apprenticeship than white workers. These barriers prevent minoritised people from advancing their careers and ultimately contributes to the unemployment gap for those with skills-based qualifications.

The journey to employment for women with convictions is already steep and filled with barriers.

For those that do find employment, the battle doesn’t stop there. In our next blog, we’ll look at the long-term consequences of racial discrimination in the criminal justice system and how this affects racially minoritised women even once they find a job.

How racism in the criminal justice system harms women's chances of finding work

Keep reading: Worst-Case Scenario

More in the Worst-Case Scenario blog series: