Reentry Education in Women’s Prisons:
A History of Activism and Reform
In the 1970s, incarcerated women challenged gendered and racialized prison curriculums that failed to set them up for reentry. Prisons relied on home economics courses steeped in gendered stereotypes that did little to help women find economic independence once they were free. Relying on ideals of the civil rights movement and women’s liberation, incarcerated women built coalitions with activists and attorneys to pursue litigation and reform that sought equality andmeaningful opportunities for women. This article explores the ways incarcerated women demanded equal access to reentry, education, job training, and the courts. It draws on prison litigation and traces reentry proposals and their shortcomings. Focused on prisons in the Midwest, the article analyzes archival documents from civil rights groups, federal courts, state archives, historical newspapers, and private collections to demonstrate how incarcerated women advanced principles of social justice movements through their work on prison reform and reentry education.
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