Many Families of Inmates Struggle to Meet Basic Needs: Report


Families with an incarcerated family member struggle with basic needs such as food and housing, according to a survey by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together and other community organizations that work with imprisoned individuals, the New York Times reports


According to the report, almost two-thirds of such families struggle to meet their basic needs, including about half that cannot afford adequate food and housing. The cost associated with having an imprisoned family member, including traveling for visits and paying court fees and fines, puts more than one-third of families into debt. 

The impact of having an incarcerated family member, often a mother or father who had been the primary breadwinner, is often overlooked, the report notes. On top of that, even after the family member is released, having a criminal conviction means that a family loses eligibility for government-subsidized housing. In addition, former inmates cannot compete for federal student grants or loans, and most find it difficult to find good jobs. 

Quoting the study, the Times notes that some 26 percent of the more than 700 former inmates surveyed were still unemployed five years after serving their time. The majority of those who did find jobs found only part-time or temporary positions. 

This shows the link between incarceration and poverty, Azadeh Zohrabi, national campaigner for the Ella Baker Center, told the Times. 

“Incarceration weakens the social fabric and disrupts the social ecology of entire communities through the way it disrupts families’ economic stability,” Zohrabi told the Times. “Often, it leaves it broken beyond repair.”

According to the study, the average debt for court fees and fines for those surveyed was $13,607. The annual poverty-line income, the Times notes, is $11,770. Most inmates live at or below the poverty line. 


Women, people of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted, the study notes, and while urging state and federal lawmakers to find ways to reduce the burden, the researchers point out that where inmates come from should not be forgotten.

“It is not enough to reform the criminal-justice system without considering its purpose and impact on communities,” the report emphasizes, according to the Times. “Institutions with power must acknowledge the disproportionate impacts the current system has on women, low-income communities and communities of color and address and redress the policies that got us here.”


Read more at the New York Times.