An analysis of multiple studies found that reducing mass incarceration could reduce hunger and poverty in the United States.
Research analysts claim that if the U.S. had not escalated incarceration rates, poverty would have dropped by 20 percent between 1980 and 2004.
Hunger and poverty in America are collateral consequences of mass incarceration, according to a report from the Bread for the World Institute (BWI), Mass Incarceration: A Major Cause of Hunger.
Marlysa D. Gamblin, domestic advisor for policy and programs at BWI, highlights the educational, social and economic connections associated with mass incarceration.
Over-policing in the inner cities, longer sentences for minorities and the ongoing restraints and restrictions after release are identified as main factors that contribute to higher poverty and hunger rates.
There are more than 46,000 local, state and federal civil laws and regulations, known as “collateral consequences” of convictions that restrict ex-offender activities, according to a report by the Heritage Foundation.
Some of the better-known restrictions include partial or complete exclusion from food stamp programs, Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), affordable housing, Medicaid/Medicare, and Pell grants.
One study found that almost 70 percent of households with an incarcerated family member had trouble meeting basic needs such as food and housing.
The National Institutes of Health says that 91 percent of formerly incarcerated individuals were food-insecure and 75 percent found it difficult to find work.
One out of every four households with a formerly incarcerated person lives in deep poverty.
According to the article, families with an incarcerated family member owe an average of $13,000 in fines and court fees, which is almost half the gross income of a family of four living at the poverty line.
The Institute for Advancing Social Justice Research and Innovation at the George Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, estimates that mass incarceration costs local communities more than $244 billion altogether.
Some of the monetary costs associated with incarceration are loss of wages and employment, depression of property values, mental and healthcare costs, eviction and homelessness and the cost of travel to visit inmates.
Although mass incarceration does not reduce crime or recidivism, the United States spends an estimated $140 billion a year to incarcerate more than 2 million adults and half a million juveniles, the report said.
The report also identified evidence-based approaches such as youth employment programs, social activities, adult job training programs, mental health services and public health programs that have reduced crime by between 32 to 51 percent.
Rehabilitation and reentry are two of the four priorities outlined in the report as long-term solutions to reduce crime, poverty and hunger.
According to the Bureau of Justice statistics, prisoners who participated in job training programs were 28 percent more likely to be employed after incarceration.
Individuals who earned their high school diploma or GED were 43 percent less likely to return to jail or prison.
According to The Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center, formerly incarcerated individuals who earned more than $10 an hour were less likely to return to prison.
Gamblin concluded that public policies should help returning citizens secure jobs, food and housing so that the poverty cycle slows down.