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Study: Inmate Families Suffer Grave Economic Hardships

A survey of families that have a family member in jail or prison has found that nearly two-thirds struggle to meet their basic needs, including 50 percent that are unable to afford sufficient food and adequate housing.

The report, by the Oakland, Calif.-based Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and more than a dozen community and civil rights organization 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 focus on the economic hardships endured by families after an arrest is an often overlooked element of the nation’s criminal justice system, where 2.4 million people are in prison or jail — many of whom are fathers or mothers who had been their family’s primary income earners, according to the report. After an inmate’s release, a criminal conviction often means a family loses its ability to live in government-subsidized housing. And 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 report said.

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