The COVID-19 pandemic – and the government’s insufficient response in providing economic relief – has led to an enormous increase in food insecurity in this country. At least 54 million people are facing experiencing food insecurity (meaning they don’t have access to healthy food), and past research suggests that formerly incarcerated people, and the children of currently incarcerated people, are at especially high risk. This briefing summarizes and explains this research.

Food insecurity is an often-overlooked consequence of incarceration, and it can’t be separated from the more well-known problems of homelessness and unemployment. While the estimates vary somewhat, researchers consistently find that food insecurity is more common among formerly incarcerated people — and families with an incarcerated parent — than among the general population:

  • In a 2013 survey of recently released individuals in three states, 91% of respondents reported food insecurity, and 37% reported not having eaten for an entire day because they could not afford food.
  • 2019 study found that 20% of formerly incarcerated people report suffering from food insecurity — double that of the general population — with even higher rates among formerly incarcerated women and Black individuals.
  • Young children who live with their father before his incarceration are three times as likely to experience food insecurity, according to a study focused on the impact of paternal incarceration.
  • Finally, a 2012 study found that the incarceration of either parent increases the likelihood of food insecurity for adults and households with children by up to 15 percentage points.

Read the full article about food security and incarceration by Jenny Landon and Alexi Jones at Prison Policy Initiative.