Date of Degree


Document Type


Degree Name



Criminal Justice


Valli Rajah

Subject Categories

Criminology | Criminology and Criminal Justice


This dissertation examines a largely taken-for-granted aspect of post-incarceration life: the various forms of work associated with rebuilding one's life, and how this work is organized by the institutions that typically process individuals who are reentering society from prison or jail. This project also considers how post-incarceration work has changed in one California county under the Public Safety Realignment Act of 2011 and the subsequent changes made to the state's penal policies as implemented through Assembly Bill 109 (AB 109).

Rooted in the principles of institutional ethnography, a mode of inquiry that examines work processes and how they are coordinated, data collection for this project unfolded in two phases. The first phase involved participant observation of and in-depth interviews with formerly-incarcerated women, as well as analyses of key policy and programmatic texts used in the institutions that process women. The second phase involved in-depth interviews with front-line workers in the institutions of parole and probation.

The findings shed light on the ways in which formerly-incarcerated women grapple with various post-incarceration priorities-and specifically, how they manage when their own priorities clash with those that are imposed upon them by the various institutions that claim to offer assistance. Analyses show that the work that women do to survive occurs across a continuum of personal to public: women strategically disclose intimate details of their lives in public settings such as the welfare office to get the assistance they need as well as in intermediate spaces such as the temporary, transitional housing programs in which women often reside immediately post-release. Under AB 109, the personal and the public are colliding in a new way, as women are now subjected to surveillance by local law enforcement agencies tasked with conducting compliance checks.

Front-line community supervision workers are functioning within institutions that have been disparately affected by Realignment's mandate to ensure public safety while simultaneously minimizing the use of incarceration. State parole agents have endured cuts to staffing and resources in addition to a reduction in the ability to use parole revocation as a tool for coercing parolee compliance. Meanwhile, county probation officers carrying out AB 109's new form of supervision-many of whom are brand new to working with adults-are adjusting to new supervision approaches as well as what they perceive to be a more dangerous and sophisticated clientele. In managing their work under this new mandate, the analyses presented here show how front-line workers in parole and probation confront the complexities of their work by variously bringing personal elements-values, experiences, and histories-to their interactions with clients. Parole agents' motivations for employing the personal are related to a disconnect between stated institutional goals and agents' self-defined goals, while probation officers' motivations are guided by a "critical belief" in the potential of Realignment.

By integrating the perspectives of both clients and workers in the field of post-incarceration services, this project not only offers theoretical insights into how people experience and operate within public service institutions, but also contributes empirical depth to a new criminological literature that is documenting the challenges of implementing decarceration policy. Findings from this project point to recommendations for both structural and on-the ground change.