A survey of families with members in jail or prison found that nearly two-thirds struggle to meet their basic needs, including 50 percent that are unable to afford sufficient food and adequate housing, says the New York Times. The report by the Oakland, Ca.-based Ella Baker Center, Forward Together, and more than a dozen community and civil rights organizations that work with incarcerated people found that costs associated with incarceration, like traveling for prison visits, had pushed more than one-third of the families into debt.
The economic hardships endured by families after an arrest is an often overlooked element of the criminal justice system, where many of the 2.3 million people in prison or jail are fathers or mothers who had been their family's primary income earners. After an inmate's release, a criminal conviction often means a family loses its ability to live in government-subsidized housing. Former inmates are barred from competing for various federal student grants and loans and have difficulty finding even menial work. Twenty-six percent of the more than 700 former inmates surveyed for the study remained unemployed five years after their release, and the vast majority of others had found only part-time or temporary jobs. The findings emphasize the link between imprisonment and poverty, said Azadeh Zohrabi of the Ella Baker Center, a nonprofit group that focuses on racial and economic justice issues.