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BRIEFING PAPER

NUMBER 35, FEBRUARY 2018

Mass Incarceration: A Major Cause of Hunger
by Marlysa D. Gamblin

Bread for the World Institute
provides policy analysis on hunger and
poverty, as well as strategies to end it.
bread.org/institute-insights

Joseph Molieri for Bread for the World

U.S. poverty would
have dropped by 20
percent between 1980
and 2004 if not for
mass incarceration.
Source: Social Science Research Network

http://papers.ssrn.com/sol3/papers.cfm?abstract_id=1348049

SUMMARY AND HIGHLIGHTS
Mass incarceration has far-reaching effects in the United
States. It poses a significant barrier to ending U.S. hunger
and poverty by 2030—a goal the United States adopted
in 2015. But the connection is not always obvious.
This paper explains how mass incarceration increases hunger.
In a study by the National Institutes of Health, 91 percent
of returning citizens reported being food insecure. Many
face difficulty securing a place to work and live after being
released. In addition, 75 percent of returning citizens report

that it is “extremely difficult” or “impossible” to find a job
post-incarceration. Even once formerly incarcerated people
manage to find jobs, they suffer a permanent reduction in
their lifetime earning potential, by nearly $180,000.1 This
explains why 1 in 4 households headed by a returning
citizen lives in deep poverty. In addition, incarceration
frequently leads to hardships for their families. According
to one study, almost 70 percent of households reported
having difficulty meeting basic needs,2 such as food and
housing, when a family member was incarcerated.

Marlysa D. Gamblin is domestic advisor for policy and programs, specific populations at Bread for the World Institute.

Children with incarcerated parents are nearly three times as likely to experience health conditions such as depression and anxiety. They are also more likely to have speech and other cognitive
delays.3 These increased risks contribute to an intergenerational cycle of poverty, since any of these
problems make it harder for children to succeed in school, which in turn may prevent them from
graduating and/or finding a job that pays enough to support their own families—reinforcing hunger
across generations.

What Is Mass Incarceration?	
Mass incarceration is a commonly used term for the extremely high rate of incarceration in the
United States for both adults and youth. It refers to the vast number of Americans who are at greater
risk of being, who are currently, and
who
have been, incarcerated in jail or
As people of faith, we are called to practice scripture by loving our
prison or subject to a court-ordered
neighbors, forgiving, and helping those who are imprisoned. To learn
supervision period. Rates of incarmore about the biblical basis for why mass incarceration is a Christian
issue, visit “The Bible and Mass Incarceration” at bread.org/incarceration. ceration have soared since the early
1980s—even though crime has not.4
BOX 1:	 WHAT IS DRIVING MASS INCARCERATION?
There are three main drivers of mass incarceration:
•	 Over-policing—Over-policing occurs when a community has a heavy police presence that
is not in proportion to its rate of serious crime. Over-policing is seen mainly in low-income
communities, particularly low-income communities of color.6 Residents of over-policed
communities have a much higher chance of being stopped by police, ticketed, and/or arrested.
These practices explain the high numbers of low-income people who are currently in jail
awaiting trial because they cannot afford to post bail. Nearly seven out of 10 people in jail7 for
this reason are released without being convicted of a crime—but they still pay the costs of
having been incarcerated, from lost income to lost jobs. Congestion and frequent delays in the
court system may lead other people to plead guilty to crimes of which they are innocent, hoping
that they will be released from prison sooner than if they waited to go to trial.

“I sentenced criminals to hundreds
more years than I wanted to. I had
no choice…Mandatory minimums
limit a judge’s discretion.”
—Shira A. Scheindlin, former federal judge,
Southern District of New York

•	 Longer Sentences—Longer sentencing practices also fuel mass incarceration. People of color have a much higher chance of being convicted
than whites charged with the same offenses,8 and they are also sentenced to longer terms than whites.9 Racial bias among prosecutors, jurors,
and judges—often unconscious—is a major reason that people of color receive longer sentences for the same crimes. Longer sentences mean
more people in prison at any given time.
	

Another reason for longer sentences is a set of laws, largely enacted in the 1980s, that establish mandatory minimum sentences for many
offenses, regardless of whether the judge believes the situation warrants such a
sentence. In some cases, “three strikes” laws dictate a mandatory minimum
sentence of life in prison for anyone convicted of a third felony.

•	 Ongoing Restrictions after Release—The impact of mass
incarceration doesn’t end when people are released. Some people
are released on parole, meaning that they have served a required
portion of their sentences and are sent home but still considered to be
serving their sentences. People released on parole spend an average
of 19 months being closely supervised10 and are expected to follow
strict rules and guidelines. The rules may prove very difficult to follow.
Even one violation of the parole terms can result in being sent back to
jail or prison. Probation, or being sentenced to a term of court-ordered
supervision rather than being sent to prison, has similar restrictions.
	

ONGOING RESTRICTIONS
AFTER RELEASE
OVER-POLICING
LONGER SENTENCES

When people have completed their sentences of incarceration, parole, and/
or probation, they still have criminal records. People with criminal records
have restrictions on what they can legally do. These, known as “collateral
consequences,” range from not being allowed to work in certain industries to not
being eligible for supports such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program
(SNAP) benefits. Collateral consequences increase the likelihood that people with
criminal records will live in hunger and deep poverty. This often affects their ability
to comply with their parole or probation requirements (i.e., securing work, housing,
etc.), which increases the likelihood of recidivism.

2  BRIEFING PAPER, NUMBER 35 • FEBRUARY 2018

Although only 5 percent of the world’s population lives in the United States, our country has 25
percent of the world’s prison inmates. Thus, the U.S. prison population is five times what it would
be if it were in proportion to the total population. Even
more startlingly, the U.S. imprisonment rate is 10 times
Did you know that…
the average rate of several other developed countries.5
Our country’s state prison population has grown
by more than 700 percent since the 1970s.*
1.	 Police officers are expected to fill too many roles.
We put too much responsibility on our police officers. Limited budgets for social services, some
of which have been cut even further in recent years, mean that communities turn to the police for
help in many situations. In some low-income communities, the police are sometimes viewed as
the only place to turn for help in solving very complex problems. Many times, police officers must
simultaneously fulfill the roles of police officer, social worker, and mental health care provider.
We need to lighten the load for police officers. This can be done by allocating more funding for
social workers, mental health care professionals, and others who provide social services that require
a specific technical skill set. This would not only enable police officers to focus on law enforcement,
but would also help make communities and residents safer and at lower risk of hunger.
2.	 The definition of “crime” has been broadened. Over the last four decades,11 the United
States has both expanded the number of criminal offenses and increased the sentences
attached to many lower-level offenses. Being “tough on crime” led to criminalizing acts that
were previously not illegal. For example, some people unable to pay a traffic ticket have been
arrested and later sent to jail. It also led to handing down harsh jail or prison sentences for
offenses that might instead have been
BOX 2:	 ABILITY TO PAY: A STORY OF BAIL, PRIVATE
addressed by rehabilitation, restitution,
	
COUNSEL, AND HUNGER
community service, or a shorter period
of incarceration. For example, in some
According to the Sentencing Project, when Chris Poulos was arrested, he experienced
states, there are tough mandatory minfirsthand the difference that money can make in the criminal justice system.
imum sentences for using marijuana.
“After I was arrested, my court-appointed attorney told me I was “in a lot of
trouble.” He immediately asked if I was ready to plead guilty…I was fortunate in that
Policymakers expected that these poliassistance from family and friends allowed me to hire a
cies would deter crime, but there is little
private lawyer. Within a few hours of hiring new counsel,
12
evidence that they have. What they did
I was released from jail.
do is increase the number of people with
The ability to pay for private counsel dramatically changed
criminal records. Now, one in every three
the course of my life.
adults in the United States has a record of
When I walked out of jail that day, I left behind scores of
some kind—whether an arrest without conothers who could not afford to hire a private lawyer. Over
700,000 individuals—disproportionately people of color—
viction, a conviction for a minor offense, or
sit in jail every day, many of them because they cannot
a felony conviction. The “tough on crime”
afford to pay bail. The consequences can be enormous.
approach has also cost U.S. taxpayers bilThey may lose their jobs, their homes, and even their
13
lions of dollars to keep people in prison—
children. They may also lose hope and become more likely
Chris Poulos
to agree to a guilty plea in order to speed up their release.”
often for offenses that would not have carried lengthy terms a few decades ago.
To read the full story, refer to: http://www.sentencingproject.org/stories/christopher-poulos/
Courtesy of The Sentencing Project

The Truth About Mass Incarceration

FIGURE 1

More than

85 million

*Source: http://archive.vera.org/sites/default/files/resources/downloads/price-of-prisons-updated-version-021914.pdf

70 million Americans have an
arrest or conviction record
11 million Americans are cycling
through our nation’s jails
4.8 million Americans are on
probation or parole

Americans are
impacted by
mass incarceration

2.3 million Americans are in
state or federal prison
600,000 Americans return
home from prison each year

Source: https://www.scribd.com/document/333743025/Helping-Moms-Dads-Kids-Come-Home-Eliminating-barriers-to-housing-for-people-with-criminal-records

BREAD FOR THE WORLD INSTITUTE • BREAD.ORG/INSTITUTE-INSIGHTS 3

Mass incarceration makes it harder for this large group of people—one-third of our population14—
to get jobs. There are two reasons for this. One is that they are perceived as criminals by employers,
landlords, and other decision makers, even after they have served their time, complied with court
orders, and/or paid fines. Second, people who have been arrested but not convicted comprise 70
percent of the U.S. jail population.15 They often lose their
jobs and/or homes while being held awaiting trial. People
Did you know that…
may wait for anywhere from 48 hours to, in at least one
The total cost of mass incarceration is $1 trillion.* case, seven years,16 depending on the jurisdiction—solely
because they are unable to post bail.
3.	 Incarceration policies have always disproportionately targeted people of color. Policies
and practices of the last 250 years have created the conditions we have today.
•	 1780-1862: All northern states abolished slavery during this era, but after abolition, they used
unjust penal codes to sentence African Americans to prison in disproportionate numbers.
African Americans in Pennsylvania, for example, were just 2.3 percent of the state’s population
but almost 15 percent of the statewide prison population.17
•	 1863-1877: After the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, southern states enacted “black
codes”18 that restricted the liberties of freed people. In effect, these codes continued at least
some elements of slavery. Former slaves were incarcerated for such “crimes” as vagrancy or
gathering in public spaces. Inmates were often forced to work on plantations, in coal mines, or
elsewhere to “pay off their debt to society.” African Americans were still not a significant part of
the south’s jail or prison system since the vast majority were newly free, but black codes sharply
increased their incarceration rate. Ultimately, it surpassed that of whites.
•	 1877-1965: The rise in incarceration rates continued into the era of Jim Crow. Increasingly,
inmates were used in the “convict-lease” system,19 which allowed prisons to rent out inmates
to work on plantations and other sites. Unfortunately, the prospect of getting access to cheap
labor motivated many local governments to continue targeting African Americans for “crimes.”
African Americans were often unable to fight any allegations that were made, and thus forced
into incarceration, because they were legally barred from suing organizations or individuals
who were not African American.
•	 1980-2000: The disproportionate incarceration rates of African Americans began to rise even
more steeply during the “War on Drugs.” Research indicates that whites and African Americans
use illegal drugs at essentially the same rates, but in the 1980s and 1990s, police targeted lowincome areas, primarily communities of color, at higher rates than white communities. This
worsened the growing incarceration gaps between the United States and other developed countries and among African Americans, other communities of color, and whites.
•	 Today: Today, people living in poverty, especially people of color, are still more likely to
encounter the criminal justice system because law enforcement and court officials practice
racial bias, many times unknowingly. Thus, more than half of the prison population in about 12
states is black, and African Americans can be between 5 and 10 times as likely to be incarcerated
as whites because they are stopped, ticketed, and arrested by the police at higher rates.
FIGURE 2

*Source: https://advancingjustice.wustl.edu/SiteCollectionDocuments/The%20Economic%20Burden%20of%20Incarceration%20in%20the%20US.pdf

Latinos and African
Americans are between

3 6x
and

as likely to be
incarcerated as whites
for the same offense.

Sources: http://www.naacp.org/criminal-justice-fact-sheet; http://www.sentencingproject.org/criminal-justice-facts

4  BRIEFING PAPER, NUMBER 35 • FEBRUARY 2018

If Latinos and African Americans
were incarcerated at the same
rate as whites, today’s prison
and jail populations would
decline by approximately

50%.

Additionally, once arrested, people of color face significant racial disparities in sentencing decisions. Sentences imposed on Black males in the federal system, for example, are nearly 20 percent
longer than those imposed on white males convicted of similar crimes. This racial disparity persists
nationwide, with 65 percent of prisoners in the U.S. sentenced to life without parole for nonviolent
offenses being Black—this is 4 times the percentage for whites.

The Ripple Effects of Mass Incarceration	
DURING INCARCERATION
Every year, our nation spends nearly $140 billion in taxpayer dollars20 to incarcerate more than
2 million adults and 500,000 youth.21 Incarceration increases the risk of hunger, food insecurity,
and nutritional deficiencies for individuals, families, and communities.
People are at risk of hunger and poor nutrition while they are incarcerated.22, 23, 24 They cannot
have a healthy diet unless the prison system opts to provide healthy foods. Unhealthy diets while
incarcerated can result in a myriad of health complications later in life,25 often after people have
returned to the community.
Families with an imprisoned family member owe an average of $13,000 in fines and court fees26
related to incarceration, not including other related fees. That is more than half the gross income
of a family of four at the poverty line—and it comes at the same time as the loss of income when a
wage earner goes to jail or prison. Such financial hits cause one in five families with an incarcerated
family member to be evicted.27
Finally, when families are suffering, so is the community. Since mass incarceration makes many families
vulnerable to eviction, communities may lose residents.
They lose resources when money is taken out of the
community to support incarcerated family members
and pay their fines and court costs. In addition, home
values in the most-affected communities frequently
decrease, because prospective buyers are less likely to
want to move into a neighborhood where many people
have criminal records. Mass incarceration costs communities $11 billion in decreased property values,28
making it even harder for low-income families and families of color to save for the future.
Researchers at the Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation at the George
Warren Brown School of Social Work, Washington University in St. Louis, estimate that mass
incarceration costs local communities, many of which already face hunger and poverty, more than
$244 billion altogether.29 Some of these costs are lost wages while people are in prison; depression
of property values; families being evicted and often becoming homeless; mental health problems
among both people who are returning and their children; the cost of travel to visit inmates; and
costs associated with children doing poorly in school.
Mass incarceration fuels an intergenerational cycle of poverty because children with incarcerated parents are at greater risk of being arrested as juveniles. Being detained as a youth reduces
one’s ability to succeed in the labor market by 30 percent in the first 10 years after release.30

“Incarceration costs local
communities—many of
them already facing
hunger and poverty—
more than $244 billion.”

LIFE AFTER INCARCERATION
When someone repays a debt, we usually believe that the debt is no longer owed. Once
someone repays a student loan, for example, the loan no longer affects the life of the person who
owed the money. But when people are released from prison, having paid their debt to society as
determined by a judge or jury, they find that their debt has not, after all, been paid off. In fact, it
seems never-ending.
People returning from jail or prison face countless restrictions when trying to find a job, a place
to live, and food. As mentioned earlier, these “collateral consequences” often make it difficult for
people to avoid hunger and poverty.
BREAD FOR THE WORLD INSTITUTE • BREAD.ORG/INSTITUTE-INSIGHTS 5

Joseph Molieri for Bread for the World

In a study by the Ella Baker Center on Human Rights, 75 percent of the returning citizens
reported that securing a job post-incarceration is “difficult” or “nearly impossible.”31 Moreover, 70
percent of the formerly incarcerated adults return home to children who need to be provided and
cared for,32 while almost 80 percent say that their families were denied housing because of their
criminal record or that of a loved one.33
Returning citizens need jobs perhaps more than any other group, because in many states, they
are excluded from social safety-net programs that help other unemployed people and their families.
A Heritage Foundation legal memorandum reported that there are more than 46,000 local, state,
and federal civil laws and regulations—known
BOX 3:	 REENTRY AND WORK: A STORY OF SECOND
as “collateral consequences” of conviction,
	
CHANCES FOR RETURNING CITIZENS
as opposed to the “direct consequences” of
conviction—that restrict the activities of exThe HELP Program is a ministry of the St. Francis de Sales Parish community in
offenders.34 They affect employment, social
Cincinnati. Its mission is to help men returning from prison find jobs and properly
reenter society.
services, and other spheres of life. Usually,
whether the offense that led to incarceraIt was founded in 2007 by Brother Mike Murphy out of his passion to help others. Initially,
he thought the men were jobless because they lacked the skills that employers needed. He
tion is relevant to the work required is not
soon realized, though, that legal obstacles kept them from getting and holding onto jobs.
taken into consideration, leaving millions
The biggest difference between Mike and the men in the program was how they were
of returning citizens with very few options.35
viewed and treated by the
For example, returning citizens, regardless
government and employers due
of their offenses, are banned outright from
to the program participants’
criminal records. It was then
becoming barbers in some states.
that Brother Mike realized that
Not all collateral consequences are a
changing the laws had to be a
matter
of law. Sometimes they have more to
top priority of the HELP Program,
do
with
the absence of law. Many employment
so that true change could be
possible for people returning
applications across the country require applifrom incarceration.
cants to answer “yes” or “no” to the question
To read the full story, visit the 2014
of whether they have ever been convicted
Hunger Report and read pages 90-92.
of a crime. In many cases, checking “yes”
http://hungerreport.org/2015/
automatically disqualifies them from further
wp-content/uploads/2013/11/
Br. Mike Murphy, founder of the HELP Program,
consideration. Again, the individual person’s
2014-Hunger-Report-Lowrez.pdf
meets with a HELP participant.
ability to do the job and the relevance of his/
her offenses is not considered. Checking the box is a significant barrier for formerly incarcerated
people seeking work for as long as it remains legal.
Other collateral consequences include being partially or completely banned from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly the Food Stamp Program) and other social
supports such as Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF), affordable housing opportunities, Medicaid/Medicare, and Pell grants. In some cases, these are lifetime bans.
Not having access to social supports at a time when they most need them helps explain why 91
percent of returning citizens in a study by the National Institutes of Health reported36 being food
insecure when they were released. It also helps explain why their children are much more likely to
be hungry or food insecure.
FIGURE 3

1 5
in

One in five people
returning from jail
or prison earns less
than $7,600 in the year
following release—
only about 1/7 of the
median household
income ($56,516).

1in 4

Nearly one in four
households headed
by returning citizens
lives in deep poverty.

Source: Collateral Costs: Incarcerations’ Effect on Economic Mobility. The Pew Charitable Trusts. 2010. www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/pcs_assets/2010/collateralcosts1pdf.pdf

6  BRIEFING PAPER, NUMBER 35 • FEBRUARY 2018

Imposing collateral consequences on returning citizens harms the United States as a nation
as well. Every year, 600,000 people are released from imprisonment. When they cannot secure
employment, find a place to live, and/or participate in the political process, the United States is in
effect creating an ever-increasing, permanent
group of second-class citizens. This will have
Did you know that…
a negative impact on society economic growth
and on efforts to ensure that every person can
95 percent of people currently incarcerated in state
meet her/his basic needs.
prisons will at some point be released to rejoin society.*

The Way Forward
Compared to other industrialized nations, the United States has a very high incarceration rate.
As mentioned earlier, studies show that over-ticketing, over-incarcerating, and longer sentencing
do not make our communities safer, contrary to what policymakers may have originally thought.
The good news is that there are proven ways to make communities safer and reduce crime—
successes that, in turn, reduce hunger and poverty for many families and communities. Policies should focus on four priorities: 1) reducing crime, 2) rethinking how we define crime and
sentencing, 3) rehabilitating incarcerated individuals, and 4) ensuring that people successfully
reenter their communities.

Reduce

Rethink

Rehabilitate

Reenter

There is no one-size-fits-all solution that will accomplish all four priorities, but there are a
number of tried and tested, evidenced-based approaches discussed in this section. It is important
to note that these policies and practices should not be implemented in isolation. Instead, they
should be part of a coordinated effort that considers the
interconnectedness of the various policies and the impact
they have on one another.
“Some 600,000 inmates will be

REDUCING CRIME

released from prison back into
society. We know from long
experience that if they can’t find
work, or a home, or help, they are
much more likely to commit more
crimes and return to prison….
America is the land of the second
chance, and when the gates of
the prison open, the path ahead
should lead to a better life.”

Typically, local law enforcement agencies deploy more
police officers in areas perceived as needing more resources
to enforce the law. From their point of view, this makes sense.
But in a larger context, it is not police officers that make a
community truly safer. It is greater opportunity and hope.
Sufficient resources for local and state agencies and
nonprofit groups that offer social supports, mental and
physical health services, and educational programs help
residents and reduce crime in their communities. Programs
such as youth employment and social activities, adult job
training programs, mental health services, and community
—Former President George W. Bush,
public health programs have been shown to reduce crime
2004 State of the Union Address
by between 32 percent to 51 percent, and residents have
reported feeling safer.37, 38 Resources that make communities more “walkable,” such as sidewalks, parks, community centers, and libraries, also help.
Ensuring that people in low-income communities have access to these types of social supports
not only helps families improve their food security, housing, and general standard of living, but also
*Source: https://www.bjs.gov/content/reentry/reentry.cfm

BREAD FOR THE WORLD INSTITUTE • BREAD.ORG/INSTITUTE-INSIGHTS 7

relieves the pressure on police to act as social workers or counselors while also enforcing the law.
Given the high costs of over-policing and mass incarceration, it will make communities safer while
also saving taxpayer dollars.

RETHINKING CRIME AND SENTENCING

Nate Gordon is a member of
the HELP program for male
returning citizens who are
looking to secure work to
provide for their families in
Cincinnati, OH. HELP was
featured in Bread for the World
Institute’s 2014 Hunger Report,
Ending Hunger in America.
Gordon is shown here spending
time with his young daughter.

Joseph Molieri for Bread for the World

The fact that nearly seven in 10 people in jail are released without a conviction tells us that the
United States needs to find ways to prevent arrests that lead to jail time in cases that lack sufficient
evidence of a crime. We must redefine the behavior that warrants policing, ticketing, and arrests.
Some behavior is clearly criminal. But many other acts were not crimes in the recent past and/
or fall into “gray areas” where it generally does not make sense to jail people (particularly because,
as mentioned earlier, it leads all too often to their losing jobs and homes). Non-threatening, lowprofile, minor offenses should be addressed differently. For example, people who cannot afford
to pay a traffic ticket could be assigned flexible community service hours, pay a reduced amount
proportionate to their income, or be pardoned altogether rather than receiving jail time. This will
prevent some adults and youth from entering the criminal justice system in the first place.
Second, the United States needs to rethink sentencing and parole/probation policies. For most
lower-level offenders, there are effective alternatives to incarceration, parole, and probation. Alternative approaches have been shown to reduce costs as compared to incarceration.39
For example, cases involving mental
illness and most drug offenses could
be referred to medical treatment and
community-based support programs.
Even for more serious drug offenses,
“drug courts” have been shown to be
an effective alternative. These avoid
imprisoning people while still holding
them accountable for their offenses.
Drug courts combine strict discipline
with understanding that addiction is
a disease.
Another example is changing our
approach to making decisions about
setting bail or releasing people on
their own recognizance. In jails across
the country, up to 85 percent40 of the
inmates are being detained because
they are awaiting trial and do not have
the funds to post bail. They are not
necessarily guilty of a crime—and in
any case, they have not been convicted
of a crime. The majority do not pose a
threat to society; meanwhile, their families are more likely to face hunger and
food insecurity without their incomes.
Offering alternatives to requiring
bail will reduce the number of people
who are being held in jails at great cost
to both themselves and the taxpayers,
and will lower millions of families’
risk of falling into deeper poverty and
hunger—all without raising the nation’s
rate of violent crime.

8  BRIEFING PAPER, NUMBER 35 • FEBRUARY 2018

Third, the United States needs to identify offenses that currently carry unnecessarily harsh penalties and adopt strategies to reduce lengthy sentences among people who have been convicted. Studying
the impact and outcomes of mandatory minimum sentencing policy will be key to making the right
policy choices. Potential actions to improve sentencing policies range from giving judges more discretion in individual cases, to repealing federal and state mandatory minimum sentences altogether.

REHABILITATING IMPRISONED PEOPLE
The ability of the 600,000 people released from jail or prison each year to support themselves
and their families depends partly on the skills they learn and the supportive treatment they receive
in prison. Rehabilitation should include opportunities to earn a GED or college credit, workforce
training, and health care (including treatment for substance abuse and mental illnesses). Individuals
who further their education while in prison, for example
by earning a high school diploma or post-secondary degree
or certificate, are 43 percent less likely to return to jail or
One example of how legislation could help accomplish this
is the bipartisan Sentencing Reform and Corrections Act (S.
prison41 than those who do not. In addition, the Bureau
1917) introduced in the U.S. Senate, which has been led by
of Justice Statistics found that inmates who participate in
Senators Grassley (R-IA) and Durbin (D-IL). This bill looks
job training programs are 28 percent more likely to secure
at both sentencing and reentry—two very important aspects
employment following release than those who do not.42
of reducing incarceration and hunger rates. It would help
Despite the evidence, however, overcrowding and rising
address sentencing policies that have increased incarceration
rates nationwide, better prepare former offenders to re-enter
costs have prevented many jails and prisons from offering
the workforce to support their families, and help ensure that
rehabilitative services to inmates, to the detriment of both
returnees have a fair second chance.
individuals and the communities they rejoin.

REENTERING COMMUNITIES
Many incarcerated people have no proof of identification, required by nearly all employers.
Prior to release, the prison system should help these people obtain key documents such as a state
identification card.43
When people are released and return home, they need a place to live, food to eat, and a job
that will enable them to pay for these and other basic necessities going forward. It is much harder
for returning citizens to make positive contributions to their families and communities without
these things.
This means extending support programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps), Medicaid, TANF, housing support, and Pell Grants
to returning citizens.
In addition, proper reentry requires that we take an honest look at the barriers to work and adopt
policies to remove them. Most of the collateral consequences of incarceration pertain to employment,44 while the offense committed is largely irrelevant to the ability to do the job. Policymakers
must reassess and reconsider the impact of policies that penalize people with criminal records after
they have served their time. Such restrictions harm millions of individuals each year—and they also
harm society.
The Urban Institute’s Justice Policy Center has found that the more returning citizens earn
during the first two months following their release, the lower their chances of returning to prison.
For example, people who earned more than $10 an hour were half as likely45 to return to prison as
those whose hourly wages were less than $7.
Housing is also important. The Justice Policy Center found that returning citizens who had
adequate housing were 60 percent less likely to return to prison.46 Yet nearly 80 percent of returning
citizens are housing insecure when they are released.47 This raises both recidivism and hunger rates.
Our public policies should make it easier for returning citizens to reenter society with a job,
housing, and other necessities, so that households are stronger and less at risk of confronting the
same or even deeper levels of hunger and poverty when their family member returns.
For more specific policies that can help reduce hunger for returning citizens and their families, please refer to
Recommendations IV and V of “Ending U.S. Hunger and Poverty by Focusing on Communities Where It’s Most
Likely”48 by Marlysa D. Gamblin at Bread for the World Institute.
BREAD FOR THE WORLD INSTITUTE • BREAD.ORG/INSTITUTE-INSIGHTS 9

Endnotes
1

The Pew Charitable Trusts, 2010. Collateral Costs: Incarceration’s
Effect on Economic Mobility. Washington, DC: The Pew Charitable
Trusts. http://www.pewtrusts.org/~/media/legacy/uploadedfiles/
pcs_assets/2010/collateralcosts1pdf.pdf
2

“Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families.”
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. September 2015. http://
ellabakercenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/who-pays.pdf
3

Turney, Kristen. “Stress Proliferation across Generations?
Examining the Relationship between Parental Incarceration and
Childhood Health.” Journal of Health and Social Behavior 2014 55:
302. American Sociological Association. August 2014. https://nrccfi.
camden.rutgers.edu/files/Journal-of-Health-and-Social-Behavior2014-Turney-302-19.pdf.

14 Dietrich, Sharon and Rebecca Vallas. “One Strike and You’re Out:
How we can Eliminate Barriers to Economic Security and Mobility
for People with Criminal Records.” Center for American Progress.
December 2014. https://cdn.americanprogress.org/wp-content/
uploads/2014/12/VallasCriminalRecordsReport.pdf
15

Minto, Todd and Zhen Zeng. “Jail Inmates at Midyear 2014.” U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/jim14.pdf

16

Cohen, Andrew. “Why Carlos Montero Has Been in Rikers for
Seven Years Without Trial.” The Marshall Plan. June 2015. https://
www.themarshallproject.org/2015/06/19/why-carlos-montero-hasbeen-in-rikers-for-seven-years-without-trial

Criminal Justice Facts: The United States is the world’s
leader in incarceration.” The Sentencing Project. http://www.
sentencingproject.org/criminal-justice-facts/

17 Numbers that Are Not New: African Americans in the Country’s
First Prison, 1790-1835. THE PENNSYLVANIA MAGAZINE OF
HISTORY 6C BIOGRAPHY. Vol. CXIX, Nos. 1/2 (January/April 1995).
https://journals.psu.edu/pmhb/article/download/44974/44695

5

18

4

Ibid.

6

“Targeted Fines and Fees against Communities of Color:
Civil Rights and Constitutional Implications.” U.S. commission
on Civil Rights. September 2017. http://www.usccr.gov/pubs/
Statutory_Enforcement_Report2017.pdf
7

Minto, Todd and Zhen Zeng. “Jail Inmates at Midyear 2014.” U.S.
Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice
Statistics. https://www.bjs.gov/content/pub/pdf/jim14.pdf
8

“The Color of Justice: Racial and Ethnic Disparity in State
Prisons.” The Sentencing Project. http://www.sentencingproject.org/
wp-content/uploads/2016/06/The-Color-of-Justice-Racial-and-EthnicDisparity-in-State-Prisons.pdf
9

Ibid.

10, 11

“The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers.”
VERA Institute of Justice, Center on Sentencing and Corrections.”
JANUARY 2012 (UPDATED 7/20/12).
12

Bowling, Julia, Dr. Oliver Roeder and Lauren-Brooke Eisen.
“What Caused the Crime Decline?” The Brennan Center for
Justice at New York University School of Law. 2015. https://www.
brennancenter.org/sites/default/files/publications/What_Caused_
The_Crime_Decline.pdf
13

“The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the U.S.” Institute for
Advancing Justice. October 2016. https://advancingjustice.wustl.edu/
SiteCollectionDocuments/The%20Economic%20Burden%20of%20
Incarceration%20in%20the%20US.pdf

10  BRIEFING PAPER, NUMBER 31 • MARCH 2017

“Black Codes and Pig Laws.” PBS. 2017. http://www.pbs.org/tpt/
slavery-by-another-name/themes/black-codes/

19

Ayers, Edward L. “Vengeance and Justice: Crime and Punishment
in the 19th-Century American South.” 1984. New York, New York.

20

Analysis from data compiled by the Institute for Advancing
Justice. Bread for the World Institute added the costs to taxpayers
from corrections spending on inmate moving costs, injuries during
incarceration, healthcare costs, and childcare costs (usually for foster
care when a parent is incarcerated), to total $137 billion for prison
housing costs. This analysis does not account for costs to individual
communities or households during incarceration and does not
consider post-incarceration costs to society. The original study is
“The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the U.S.” Institute for
Advancing Justice. October 2016. https://advancingjustice.wustl.edu/
SiteCollectionDocuments/The%20Economic%20Burden%20of%20
Incarceration%20in%20the%20US.pdf
21 Holman, Berry and Jason Ziedenberg. “The Dangers of
Detention: The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in Detention
and Other Secure Facilities.” A Justice Policy Institute Report.
http://www.justicepolicy.org/images/upload/06-11_rep_
dangersofdetention_jj.pdf
22

“Prisoner Diet Legal Issues.” AELE Monthly Journal.
2007 (7) AELE Mo. L. J. 301. July 2007. http://www.aele.org/
law/2007JBJUL/2007-07MLJ301.pdf
23

“Correcting Food Policy in Washington Prisons: How
the DOC Makes Healthy Food Choices Impossible for
Incarcerated People and What Can Be Done.” Prison Voice
Washington. October 2016. http://prisonvoicewa.org/content/
CorrectingFoodPolicy-2016-10-25.pdf

24

DRC Food Services.” Correction Institution Inspection Committee.
Columbus, Ohio. April 2016. http://www.dispatch.com/assets/pdf/
archive/DRC_Food_Service_Data_Brief-1.pdf

25

“Correcting Food Policy in Washington Prisons: How the DOC
Makes Healthy Food Choices Impossible for Incarcerated People and
What Can Be Done.” Prison Voice Washington. October 2016.
26

“Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families.”
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. September 2015. http://
ellabakercenter.org/sites/default/files/downloads/who-pays.pdf
27

Ibid.

28

“The Economic Burden of Incarceration in the U.S.” Institute for
Advancing Justice. October 2016. https://advancingjustice.wustl.edu/
SiteCollectionDocuments/The%20Economic%20Burden%20of%20
Incarceration%20in%20the%20US.pdf
29

Ibid.

30

Holman, Berry and Jason Ziedenberg. “The Dangers of Detention:
The Impact of Incarcerating Youth in Detention and Other Secure
Facilities.” A Justice Policy Institute Report. http://www.justicepolicy.
org/images/upload/06-11_rep_dangersofdetention_jj.pdf
31

Who Pays: The True Cost of Incarceration on Families. Ella Baker
Center for Human Rights. September 2015. http://ellabakercenter.org/
sites/default/files/down­loads/who-pays.pdf

32

Ibid.

33

Ibid.

34

Malcolm, John and John-Michael Seibler. “LEGAL
MEMORANDUM: Collateral Consequences: Protecting Public Safety
or Encouraging Recidivism?” Heritage Foundation. March 2017.
http://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/2017-03/LM-200.pdf

35

Gamblin, Marlysa. “Ending U.S. Hunger and Poverty by Focusing
on Communities Where It’s Most Likely.” Bread for the World
Institute. http://www.bread.org/sites/default/files/downloads/
ending-us-hunger-marlysa-gamblin-march-2017.pdf
36

A Pilot Study Examining Food Insecurity and HIV Risk Behaviors
Among Individuals Recently Released from Prison. National
Institute of Health. April 2013. www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/
PMC3733343/pdf/nihms469405.pdf

38

“Crime Lab study finds youth employment program has impact
on violent crime arrests.” University of Chicago News. https://
news.uchicago.edu/article/2013/08/07/crime-lab-study-finds-youthemployment-program-has-impact-violent-crime-arrests

39

“The Price of Prisons: What Incarceration Costs Taxpayers.”
VERA Institute of Justice, Center on Sentencing and Corrections.”
JANUARY 2012 (UPDATED 7/20/12). http://archive.vera.org/
sites/default/files/resources/downloads/price-of-prisons-updatedversion-021914.pdf

40

Shenwar, Maya. “Too Many People in Jail? Abolish Bail.” New York
Times. May 2015. https://www.nytimes.com/2015/05/09/opinion/
too-many-people-in-jail-abolish-bail.html?mcubz=1

41 Gill, Molly and Kevin Ring. “USING TIME TO REDUCE CRIME:
Federal Prisoner Survey Results Show Ways to Reduce Recidivism.”
FAMM. June 2017. http://famm.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/05/
Prison-Report_May-31_Final.pdf
42

Ibid.

43

“State Identification: Reentry Strategies for State and Local
Leaders.” National Reentry Resource Center. April 2016.
https://csgjusticecenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/
State-Identification.pdf

44

Malcolm, John and John-Michael Seibler. “LEGAL
MEMORANDUM: Collateral Consequences: Protecting Public Safety
or Encouraging Recidivism?” Heritage Foundation. March 2017.
http://www.heritage.org/sites/default/files/2017-03/LM-200.pdf

45

La Vigne, Nancy and Shebani Rao. “Ways to Reduce Crime.” Urban
Institute, Justice Policy Center. Urban Wire: Crime and Justice. http://
www.urban.org/urban-wire/five-ways-reduce-crime

46

Ibid.

47

“Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families.”
Ella Baker Center for Human Rights. September 2015. http://
ellabakercenter.org/sites/default/files/down­loads/who-pays.pdf
48

Gamblin, Marlysa. “Ending U.S. Hunger and Poverty by Focusing
on Communities Where It’s Most Likely.” Bread for the World
Institute. http://www.bread.org/sites/default/files/downloads/
ending-us-hunger-marlysa-gamblin-march-2017.pdf

37

“Parks After Dark Turns Parks Into Safe Havens That Promote
Community Cohesion and Healthy Physical Activity.” Los Angeles
County Department of Public Health. Los Angeles, CA. https://www.
preventioninstitute.org/sites/default/files/uploads/Profiles%20in%20
Prevention%20LA%20-%20Parks%20after%20Dark.pdf

BREAD FOR THE WORLD INSTITUTE • BREAD.ORG/INSTITUTE-INSIGHTS 11

President, David Beckmann | Director, Asma Lateef

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Tel 202.639.9400 Fax 202.639.9401
institute@bread.org www.bread.org/Institute
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