New Report Highlights Harmful Impact of Incarceration on Family Members, Communities
- School-to-Prison Pipeline
- Child Welfare Crossover
- Mental Health
- Juvenile Defense
- Juvenile Competency
- In-Home Care Incentive
- PREA, Isolation, Restraint
- Youth in Adult System
- Juvenile Life Without Parole
- Youth Reentry
A new report examines the hidden costs of mass incarceration in the United States, and the burdens that are placed on families with a loved one in prison. “Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families” assigns nominal and emotional value to the damaging, long-lasting effects incarceration has on family members and communities.
The report’s findings are the result of research conducted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design, with the assistance of 20 other multi-state, community-based organizations (including the Michigan Council on Crime and Delinquency and the Prison & Family Justice Project at the University of Michigan Law School). Over the course of a year, the research partners conducted 34 focus groups and interviewed over 1,000 formerly incarcerated individuals, family members impacted by incarceration, and employers in 14 states.
As the interviews and personal stories included in the report show, the criminal justice system disproportionately impacts impoverished communities and communities of color, trapping many families into poverty by burdening them with fees, fines and other costs. Since many of the people arrested and sent to prison were previously the household breadwinners, incarceration may place additional strain on families who struggle to meet their basic needs while continuing to provide financial and emotional support for their incarcerated relative. Of the family members surveyed, 63% were responsible for court-related costs associated with a loved one’s conviction, with 48% reporting being unable to afford these costs, with an average debt incurred from court fines and fees alone averaging $13,600.
The report findings align with other national studies which show that maintaining positive familial relationships through regular communication and engagement during the period of incarceration is a key factor in reducing recidivism. Unfortunately, family ties are often severed or difficult to maintain due to the extreme fees and costs associated with keeping in contact with family members on the inside. One in three (34%) of family members interviewed for the report went into debt to pay for phone calls and visits alone. Family members who were not able to communicate with their incarcerated loved ones regularly were much more likely to report experiencing negative health impacts, including feelings of hopelessness, depression and anxiety.
Once an ex-prisoner returns home, many of their families continue to struggle financially. Of the formerly incarcerated individuals interviewed for the report, 67% were still unemployed or underemployed five years after being released from prison, with the lack of adequate training and education, and the disclosure of their conviction history being the largest barriers to finding stable employment.
The findings from the report highlights the importance of family support for people in prison, and how the harmful impacts of incarceration can pose barriers to family engagement. In Michigan, efforts to increase support for the families of prisoners are already under way. The Family Participation Program, a project implemented by Lois DeMott, is helping families navigate the prison system by providing educational workshops and other informational resources. With support of the Michigan Department of Corrections(MDOC), it has been piloted in four prisons. The Family Participation Program answers questions that family members may have, including issues related to visitations and making phone calls to prisoners, empowering the families to become advocates for their incarcerated loved ones.
Lois has also worked with MDOC to create a formalized “Family Advisory Board” that is comprised of 12 diverse family members and formerly incarcerated individuals from various regions in Michigan. By assisting and advising the department with the development of policies and programs that support family reunification during and after incarceration, the Family Advisory Board is working to ensure that family engagement and support remains a strong component of MDOC’s prisoner rehabilitation process. The Board is meeting quarterly with a liaison from MDOC and is currently making suggested revisions to the MDOC Informational Packet that is available on their website. These quarterly meetings began May 1st and seek input from families across Michigan on recommendations to bring to the quarterly meetings on how MDOC can best embrace and support family inclusion and reunification.
Stressing that criminal justice reform is not enough without considering how the policies that fuel mass incarceration negatively impact families and communities, the co-authors of the report suggest that lasting change is possible through the reinvestment of savings from reduced incarceration rates into community-based treatment programs, removing barriers to maintaining familial relationships and securing stable housing post-release, and the restoration of opportunities for job training and employment for the formerly incarcerated.
Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families– Led by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design
How Incarceration Infects a Community– by Emily Von Hoffman, The Atlantic
Parents’ Incarceration Takes Toll on Children, Studies Say– by Sarah Sparks, Education Week
Posted by MCCD on Wednesday, September 23rd, 2015 @ 10:53AM
Categories: Community Corrections, Mass Incarceration, Prisoner Reentry