• postincarceration;
  • reentry;
  • qualitative research;
  • women's health


Objective: To integrate the findings of qualitative studies about the experiences of women reentering the community postincarceration.

Data Sources: Qualitative studies were identified using library databases from nursing and other disciplines, including Cumulative Index to Nursing and Allied Health Literature (CINAHL), MedLine, JSTOR, SCOPUS, WilsonWeb, and ProQuest Dissertations and Theses. The keywords women, prisoners, incarceration, community re-integration, re-entry, qualitative research, and narratives were searched in all databases in articles published in the past decade.

Study Selection: Qualitative studies involving women reentering the community postincarceration were eligible for inclusion. Only studies published from 2000 through 2009 were selected to reflect contemporary experiences of women.

Data Extraction and Synthesis: Using Noblit and Hare's approach, the authors conducted a metasynthesis of 10 qualitative studies. Each study was carefully read with attention to the data as well as the metaphors used by the author(s). The relationships between the studies were synthesized and identified by listing key metaphors, concepts, themes, and/or ideas of each study. The study translations were synthesized into a whole, and the synthesis refined leading to a description of the experience of women reentering the community.

Conclusion: The following four overarching themes emerged: tenuous transitions, “once a criminal, always a criminal,” downward spiral, and tipping points. The themes allow advance practice nurses in women's health to identify the health and psychosocial needs of a vulnerable population of women and to develop interventions that address the challenges women face upon release.