Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Based on in-depth, semi-structured qualitative and photo-elicitation interviews with 36 formerly incarcerated women, this dissertation answers three central research questions: (1) How does the state structure women's post-incarceration experiences? (2) How do these post-incarceration experiences relate to women's experiences of criminalization and incarceration? (3) How do women respond to criminalization, incarceration, and post-incarceration? By centering women's standpoint, I draw upon poststructuralist theories of the state to show how women experienced governance across multiple sites. I first examine the violence and dehumanization women experienced in their encounters with the criminal legal system and how the state labeled women as "criminals" and "addicts." After imprisonment, women encountered what I term a post-incarceration moral order in which they had to continuously perform their "rehabilitated," "moral," and "clean" identities under high levels of surveillance. State and non-state actors offered religion and recovery, specifically the 12-Step logic, as mechanisms for women to use to demonstrate their personal transformations, and recovery homes, drug treatment programs, and religious groups ultimately extended the discourses around "criminal" and "rehabilitated" identities that women experienced while incarcerated. Women contrasted their present selves with their past selves in ways that showed how personal transformation was an embodied process of moving from a failed femininity to a rehabilitated femininity. I show how women experienced the post-

incarceration moral order as both constraining and enabling, as well as the strategies they used to navigate the order. I discuss women's resistance of the order's individualistic focus by highlighting moments of collectivity and critique, what I term cracks in the moral order. Women realized that personal transformation alone was not the answer to the problems they faced and that there was a need for broader social change. My research indicates a need for fundamental changes to the criminal legal system that go beyond reforming the conditions of imprisonment and easing the barriers people face post-incarceration. Specifically, I argue for the need for more types of drug treatment, rather than the dominance of the 12-Step approach; the need to decriminalize drugs; and the value of abolitionist projects that link personal and social transformation.

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This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 License.

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