Long Way Back: Difficulties Female Ex-Offenders Confront to Reintegrate into Taiwan Society

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This article is part of the 15th issue of LEAP — Voices of Youth e-letter. Subscribe now.

Since 2019, documentaries and movies about crimes and ex-offenders in Taiwan have attracted wide attention. For example, The World Between Us and A Sun have been viewed by a considerable number of people, sparking new discussions on ex-offenders in society. However, the shows being discussed only feature male protagonists. Like other minority groups, female ex-offenders have been passively excluded from the discussion.

Compared to males, female ex-offenders are overall more likely to have unstable jobs and lower pay. In addition, when they are also mothers, they face unforgiveness from their immediate family or in-laws. Their identity as a mother may also become an obstacle for them to find a job. Facing multiple predicaments after being released from prison, even with assistance from non-governmental organizations and religious groups, female ex-offenders still lack needed resources to properly reintegrate into society.

Photo credit: OFFFSTOCK /Shutterstock.com

Under multiple predicaments, female ex-offenders only seek to survive

Although female offenders account for less than 10% of all offenders, the double identity of being an ex-offender and a woman makes them a particularly overlooked or excluded minority.

Regarding family, many female ex-offenders with children face not being forgiven for their absence from their children’s lives. Social worker Tzi-Chi, who has been working for ex-offenders for 14 years, shared her experience: “A 50-year-old woman with a criminal record of fraud was sentenced to prison. Her husband’s family took away her children and forced them to cut contact with their mother.” As for a female ex-offender who is about to form a family, even if her partner can understand and overlook her past, she might still worry that her husband’s family will think that she cannot be responsible for educating their children.

Regarding employment, data from 2013 about employment options following release from prison showed that the top three occupations for ex-offenders were construction workers, factory workers, and restaurant servers. Due to age and physical factors, most female ex-offenders are unsuitable for the first two. If they want to find a white-collar job, they may be rejected because of their identity as an ex-offender or lack of education. People who have served a long prison sentence may be rejected by the job market due to old age or social disconnection.

In addition to the double minority status of being a woman and an ex-offender, some women might be facing other problems, such as pregnancy, physical disabilities, mental illness, economic difficulties, uncertain housing conditions, or family issues, causing them to be trapped in “multiple predicaments”.

Photo credit: GoodStudio/Shutterstock.com

Pay gap becomes the first obstacle for female ex-offenders reintegrating into society

A key point for ex-offenders reintegrating into society is whether they can find employment. According to the “Ex-Offender Employment Survey” conducted by the Ministry of Justice, compared to male ex-offenders, there are approximately 4% more female ex-offenders who occupy “non-committal jobs counting by hour, by time, or by day” or “odd jobs around,” and approximately 5% fewer female ex-offenders who are “contractors or dispatched workers.” Regarding “current monthly income,” male ex-offenders primarily make US$1,000–$1,333, whereas female ex-offenders only make US$635–$833.

If the government or non-government organizations provide the same level of assistance and resources for female and male ex-offenders (e.g., short-term unemployment compensation, housing subsidies, or small loans for starting a business), female ex-offenders might not receive sufficient amounts of total support and aid.

Limited options for female ex-offenders to reintegrate into society

As of today, Taiwan does not have a department responsible for helping female ex-offenders to reintegrate into society. Only non-government or religious organizations currently cooperate with rehabilitation organizations. For example, female rehabilitation organizations often invite the Taiwan After-Care Association to provide “Ex-offender’s Family Support System Service” consultation for offenders who are about to be released from prison, and the association could offer people referrals and accommodation.

Foster care institutions offer short-term accommodation for female ex-offenders who do not have a place to live. Taiwan has approximately seven of this kind of foster care institution primarily serving female ex-offenders and drug addicts. However, most of them do not allow children. Consequently, many women struggle between having a place to live or being with their children.

Taiwan has approximately seven of this kind of foster care institution primarily serving female ex-offenders and drug addicts. However, most of them do not allow children. Photo credit: Lin Si-hou

As the rights of female ex-offenders gradually attract attention, the service capitals like funding, supplies, or labor cost have long exceeded the ability of non-government organizations. More importantly, these organizations, consisting primarily of volunteers and support from social workers, may lack sufficient comprehensive training and professional social welfare knowledge. In some cases, they may be unable to fully understand the intersectionalities of female ex-offenders, and thus are unable to provide them assistance with the integrated resources they need to re-enter society.

In sum, refer to the words of the fellow woman who has experience of accompanying female ex-offenders, Tzi-Chi said, “Actually, female ex-offenders have more empathy than their male counterparts. Most of them are fragile because of their marriage or background growing up. However, when they realize their responsibilities, they often turn out to be more strong and resilient. I expect that society can give them more trust and support.”

LEAP — Voices of Youth is a monthly e-letter with a focus on the progress for gender equality and women’s status in Taiwan, including the LGBTQ+ community and gender issues in schools. Click here to subscribe.

Also in This Issue:

Creating a Home: Untag Female Drug Addict Ex-offenders From Criminal Images

Specifically for female ex-offenders, it’s about how Rose Family Halfway House assists them in reintegrating the society.

Author: Salome Chuang

Photographer: Lin Si-hou

Freelance journalist exploring gender and public issues.

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