The Link Between Incarceration & Food Insecurity

Excessive levels of food insecurity in households can be linked back to mass incarceration

an ecoWURD Radio Feature

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In the ongoing conversation over food insecurity, there’s one overlooked layer: prisons

CLICK & LISTEN as Dr. Robynn Cox talks with Charles Ellison, host of ecoWURD radio on WURD’s Reality Check during a recent #ecoWURDFoodLab session – made possible by Resolve Philadelphia’s Broke in Philly project …

In a city like Philadelphia, for example, it’s no wonder food insecurity rates – currently at 22 percent of city residents – are nearly double the national official average. Philadelphia County has the 2nd highest rate in the nation of residents in State Prisons at nearly 900 incarcerated individuals per 100,000 residents. From the Prison Policy Initiative

Mass incarceration, and the lingering impacts on job opportunities, housing and social mobility, leads to excessive levels of food insecurity in many households, particularly in historically vulnerable Black communities where it’s a matter of life and death. This not only results in risks and dangers for those incarcerated, but for their families and children, as well.

“My work is focused on how incarceration has impacted households with children, or children who have parents that have been incarcerated,”  said Cox. “The Department of Agriculture has this question which wonders ‘why are some individuals who are poor food insecure and others are not?’ One particular mechanism to consider is incarceration, and particularly parental incarceration. In households that experience parental incarceration, their food insecurity increased substantially.  There are multiple mechanisms: once a parent is incarcerated, it removes sources of income. Incarceration is an economic shock to the household. Everything from legal debt to conviction creates economic barriers that lead to food insecurity.”

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