Incarceration and Food Insecurity

Incarceration and Food Insecurity

Ex-Offenders Face Systemic Barriers to Reentering Society, Most are Food Insecure

By Amber Wright, Marketing

The incarceration rate in the United States is at its lowest since 1995, yet nearly 7 million  US citizens are incarcerated or under community control at any given time.

Roughly 600,000 people are released from prison every year and these barriers and inequities carry over not only for them and their families, but also the communities to which they return.

For this blog, we will look at the nutritional well-being among formerly incarcerated individuals. 91% of people beginning their transition out of imprisonment report not having regular access to nutritious food. Long after release, they still remain twice as likely to be food insecure. Reentering society presents several barriers to gaining meaningful employment, leading to high rates of food insecurity and ultimately higher rates of recidivism and healthcare expenditures.


Importance of Proper Nutrition

Inadequate nutrition has been linked to several consequences such as:

  • Obesity, heart disease, stroke, type 2 diabetes, some cancers, and deficits in brain function (CDC)
  • Worsening mood disorders like depression and anxiety (Harvard)
  • Hypertension and osteoporosis (USDA)
  • Hyperactivity, disciplinary problems, psychological problems, and criminal behavior (DOJ)
  • Increase of premature deaths

 

Stable access to healthy foods is crucial for both physical and mental well-being. Just as school children affected by hunger display poor performance and difficulty learning in school, adults suffer the same outcomes in the workplace.

If proper nutrition remains out of reach, it can be difficult to retain employability. Coupled with new or preexisting health conditions, this can generate avoidable healthcare expenses footed by the state.

Research reveals poor diets account for 20% of healthcare costs from heart disease, stroke, and diabetes. That equates to about $50 billion that could have been avoided.

There are several factors unique to previously incarcerated individuals that hinder access to a sufficient diet.


Collateral Consequences

Sentences might end, but the consequences of incarceration do not. For those who are released each year, most find significant barriers to getting back on their feet. They struggle to find adequate housing, employment, and living wages. These necessities are crucial for individuals to successfully reenter society instead of returning to the system.

Legally sanctioned restrictions and disabilities resulting from a conviction are known as “collateral consequences.” More than 47,000 collateral consequences have been identified in state and federal law, barring formerly incarcerated people from rights normally granted to American citizens. These may negatively affect access to housing, employment, professional licensure, property rights, mobility and even access to public benefits.


Barriers to Housing

Federal law currently bars access to public housing for people with certain types of convictions and grants private landlords the ability to deny anyone with a criminal background. It is not surprising that a third of people released from prison wind up in homeless shelters. Even those who have been incarcerated only once are 7 times more likely to be homeless than the general populations. It is 13 times more likely for anyone incarcerated more than once, and even higher in both categories for people of color and women.

Legislation punishes homelessness even more by criminalizing things like sleeping in public spaces, panhandling and public urination, which entraps hordes of people in the cycle of poverty while increasing recidivism rates. Even if former inmates are lucky enough to secure housing, they often find themselves limited to low-income, redlined neighborhoods. This increases the likelihood of living in a food desert and raises the chance of food insecurity.


Barriers Employment

Several social and legal barriers make it just as difficult for returning citizens to find employment. The first time data was released on the subject in 2018 by the Prison Policy Initiative, it revealed that unemployment for those leaving incarceration was an astounding 27%. Not only is that 5 times higher than the general population, but it exceeds the rate of any economic crisis, including the Great Depression. More than half of people released from prison remain out of work for at least a year.

One study found that state and federal law restricted ex-offenders from obtaining licensing required for various forms of employment. It discovered more than 12,000 restrictions for individuals with any type of felony and more than 6,000 restrictions based on misdemeanors. Surveys suggest most private employers are unwilling to hire someone who has served a prison sentence and 87% of employers conduct background checks.

Social stigma may suggest that people reentering society are not looking for work, but recent analysis indicates otherwise. For people between the ages of 25-44, data listed 93.3% of ex-offenders were either employed or actively looking for work, while only 83.8% of the general population fell into the same category. Low employment rates are more related to the systemic barriers they face rather than a lack of desire to work. Like housing barriers, people of color and women are affected the most.


Barriers to Benefits

Barriers have also been put in place hindering access to public benefits such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF).

In 1996 federal law banned anyone with a felony drug conviction from receiving SNAP benefits. Since then, most states have either dropped the ban entirely or allowed assistance on the condition of regular drug testing and treatment. However, South Carolina still has the full ban in place.

The additional requirements put in place by states who have modified the ban not only accrue additional costs for the state, but they add strain to the individuals in fulfilling them. Already having a harder time finding employment, they must now limit their availability to make regular appointments.

When accessible, public benefits improve the health of recipients as well as cut costs in other areas. For example, SNAP has shown to reduce healthcare costs while improving the overall health of recipients and reducing food insecurity by 30%. At the same time, studies for even the modified ban on access to these benefits proved to increase recidivism instead.


Why This Matters

It’s not difficult to see how all these factors lead to food insecurity. If someone is unable to find housing or employment, it’s unlikely they will have regular access to healthy foods. Poor nutrition escalates physical and mental health conditions, decreasing employability and overall quality of life. Under these conditions, it is no surprise that both recidivism and poverty rates remain high.

It has been estimated that between 1980 and 2004 overall poverty in America would have dropped 20% if not for mass incarceration.

Poor nutrition exacerbates behavioral issues and aggression. When people have served their sentence, they continue to be punished with collateral consequences and social stigma, resulting in barriers to housing and employment. This increases recidivism and decreases social productivity for everyone.

Instead of funding being spent on public assistance and programs to help people reenter society (or avoid arrest completely,) it is often used to house those who are unable to overcome these challenges.

Reducing recidivism helps everyone. It is essential that ex-offenders be granted the same accessibility to these basic needs to make it happen. More programs should be put in place not only for their benefit, but for that of their families and the overall well-being of society.

 


“Food Pharm” program at Dayton Children’s Hospital addresses childhood food insecurity in-clinic

“Food Pharm” program at Dayton Children’s Hospital addresses childhood food insecurity in-clinic

The program, a partnership between the hospital and The Foodbank, has served almost 1,000 families in the two years since its launch

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, Volunteer/Intake Support

While all households have been impacted in some way by the COVID-19 pandemic, some of the worst demands have been placed on families with children.

A study by The Anne E. Casey Foundation detailed the harmful effects of the pandemic on households with children. In September and October 2020, 14% of individuals in households with children reported they sometimes or often did not have enough food to eat. Alarmingly, 34% also reported they had delayed seeking medical care in the previous month.

These figures are a stark reminder that food is a health issue. Prior to the pandemic, families with children in our area already had difficulty accessing enough food to live a healthy, active lifestyle. In 2019, 30,870 children in the Miami Valley were reported food insecure by Feeding America.

Children and adults who experience food insecurity are at higher risk for a host of negative health outcomes. An extensive body of research has demonstrated that children who are food insecure are more likely to be hospitalized, have health concerns such as anemia and malnutrition, and experience mental health issues.

Partnerships between healthcare organizations and community based providers are essential to addressing the intersection between food insecurity and health. One of those partnerships is the Food Pharm program at Dayton Children’s Hospital.

Through this program, families with children identified as needing additional food are offered a box of healthy shelf stable food to take home. The Foodbank also supplements the shelf stable food boxes with fresh produce. The contents of the box, which is designed to feed the entire family, were selected by dietitians at Dayton Children’s Hospital. In the two years since its launch, the program has served almost 1,000 families.

Emily Callen, Dayton Children’s Community Food Equity Manager, said that the program has helped Dayton Children’s Hospital to understand the circumstances that lead families to needing food assistance, including natural disasters like the 2019 tornado outbreak, the pandemic, and household financial crises.

“Need arises in so many ways, and everyone is just trying to protect their kids from the realities of their financial struggle and make sure their kids have a meal they enjoy,” Ms. Callen said. “We think our program helps do this for at least a short period of time, while also helping families get connected to longer term resources, so families always have a meal on the table.”

Ms. Callen said she has been able to teach other hospital departments about food insecurity using the program.

“This program allows us to serve the emergency needs of families while they get connected to local food pantries, or other resources like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and Women, Infants, and Children (WIC),” Ms. Callen said. “By offering these boxes, it is our hope we can relieve the stress that comes along with food insecurity and help families to focus on whatever medical care they need.”

Moving forward, Ms. Callen is administering a survey to better understand the food needs of the families the program serves. The study will evaluate how well the food boxes meet cultural food needs and inform future food selections. Ms. Callen said, “At the end of the day, if people aren’t eating the food we serve in the boxes, we aren’t feeding hungry people.”

As COVID-19 and the new Delta variant continue to impact families in our community, we will continue to partner with local organizations allied in the fight against hunger. We are grateful to work alongside community organizations, including Dayton Children’s Hospital, that are dedicated to addressing the Social Determinants of Health in our area.

 


The American Rescue Plan and new USDA policies support increased food security

The American Rescue Plan and new USDA policies support increased food security

How a recent flurry of policies at the federal level help us do our work

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

In the past month, we have received a lot of encouraging news from Washington about positive changes that have the potential to impact food insecurity rates in the United States. These policies cover a wide variety of programs, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, debt relief for farmers, and more.

Here is our rundown on some of the latest policies coming out Washington:

The American Rescue Plan includes critical support for nutrition assistance programs.

The American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARP), signed into law March 3, 2021, includes sweeping measures to strengthen nutrition assistance programs. These are programs anti-hunger advocates have focused on for years to reduce food insecurity in the United States.

Here some of the measures included in this legislation:

  • The extension of the 15% boost to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as Food Stamps) through September 2021
  • The extension of Pandemic EBT (P-EBT) benefits through the summer to support families with children who typically rely on school meals
  • $500 million in funding for Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC)
  • $37 million for the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP, commonly known as Senior Food Boxes) to support the nutrition of low-income seniors

Researchers at the Center on Poverty and Social Policy at Columbia University have projected that these policies, combined with others within the scope of the act (including unemployment insurance expansions and the Child Tax Credit) will cut child poverty in half.

The Foodbank, Inc. applauds the passage of these measures. While we are glad to see fewer people seeking food assistance than this time last year, many families in our area are still struggling with lost income, exhausted savings accounts, and increased debt.

In addition to lifting families out of poverty, benefits that are spent directly at grocery stores — which includes SNAP, P-EBT, and WIC programming — have a demonstrated stimulus effect on the economy. According to research from the USDA, every $1 spent on SNAP increases GDP between $.80 and $1.50.

USDA takes a closer look at equity for farmers of color.

The American Rescue Plan also includes $4 billion for debt relief for historically disadvantaged farmers and an additional $1 billion for the US Department of Agriculture (USDA) to create a racial equity commission.

While some conservative lawmakers have taken aim at this portion of the ARP, this funding is intended to offset the USDA’s history of racial discrimination against farmers of color.

There is extensive evidence that the department has discriminated against Black, Indgenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) farmers. A 1994 review of USDA loans and payments found that loans to Black males averaged $4,000 (25%) less than those to white males. Additionally, less than 1% of disaster payments went to Black farmers. The situation came to a head in the Pigford v. Glickman lawsuit, which culminated in one of the largest ever class action settlements in US history.

Advocates have pointed out that discrimination by the USDA has likely contributed to a decline in Black farmers over time. At peak in 1910, 14.6% of all farmers were Black. By 2012, the percent of Black farmers had declined 98% to only 1.6% of the total population. This racial discrimination did not start in the 1990s, either: It has roots in the Reconstruction era, when Black families were promised “40 acres and a mule” and instead were forced into sharecropping.

We are acutely aware that racial inequity is one of the driving factors of food insecurity. As participants in the larger food system, and recipients of USDA-funded product, we are glad to see Congress and the USDA working to provide reparations for past misdeeds and ensure greater inclusion in agriculture.

USDA increases SNAP benefits to lowest-income households.

The USDA announced April 1 that the department would increase SNAP benefits to households already receiving the maximum SNAP benefit, providing $1 billion per month in assistance to an estimated 25 million people.

This decision is a reversal of the Trump-era policy in which all SNAP households were issued the maximum monthly benefit. While this policy provided important support to many SNAP households, the lowest-income households who already received the maximum benefit received no increase.

Beginning in April, households that had not received at least $95/month in increased benefits will be awarded additional benefits.

According to the USDA, “Among households that [previously] received little to no benefit increase, about 40% have children, 20% include someone who is elderly and 15% include someone who is disabled.”

Research has demonstrated that SNAP households in the lowest income brackets are most likely to spend all their benefits, maximizing the stimulus effect of the program.

We are glad to see these changes applied to the SNAP emergency allotment system to ensure that very low-income households are not excluded from receiving additional benefits.

The Foodbank works with a variety of allied organizations, including Feeding America and the Ohio Association of Foodbanks, to provide education about the impact of public policies on our programming. To stay up to date on our advocacy efforts, follow us on Twitter at @thefoodbankinc.

 


Evaluating our reach with data

Evaluating our reach with data

The Foodbank recently underwent a Service Gap Map in partnership with the University of Dayton

By Emily Gallion, Grant & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager, and Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead

There is a question we hear a lot: “With three counties, how do you make sure you are serving everyone who needs help?”

It’s a valid question — while our headquarters in the city of Dayton is our highest-need and most-populated area, our three-county service area spans a diverse territory with varying needs. We serve communities that are urban and rural, high-poverty and seemingly affluent, and communities of various racial and ethnic backgrounds. So how do we make sure we are investing where we need to?

The answer: the only way we can make sure we are equitably allocating our resources is to do it with data.

The Foodbank recently underwent a Service Gap Map in partnership with The University of Dayton. We periodically take this measure to evaluate the changing landscape of food insecurity in our community. It is also an important tool to assess how effective our own distribution of services is.

“We want to make a difference in the world, and there’s no better place to start than in our hometown of Dayton,” said Dr. Cori Mowrey, Department of Engineering Management, Systems, and Technology from the University of Dayton.

Dr. Mowrey went on to say, “Our team is very excited to partner with The Foodbank to develop data-driven, evidence based solutions to serve the needs of our Miami Valley community. We are committed to continuing this work to ensure equitable access to The Foodbank and their partner agencies’ resources.”

As a result of this analysis, we obtained the following map of Montgomery County, created using GPSVisualizer.com, OpenStreetMap.org, and US Census data:

Across all three counties, the University of Dayton team found that we have a 97%* coverage rate by headcount of food insecure individuals. This is good news: We were concerned that recent events, such as the 2019 Memorial Day Tornado Outbreak, would have a significant impact on the landscape of need in our area.

We have made the above map available to the public via press release. We believe this information is valuable to many stakeholders in the community, and we embrace the transparency that this data provides from an evaluation standpoint.

However, we are concerned for the locations that were identified as underserved. In Montgomery County, these areas were Vandalia, Englewood, and Phillipsburg. In response, The Foodbank has added two new monthly Mobile Farmer’s Market sites this week to ensure that the food needs of these communities are being met.

These new mobiles will take place at Living Word Church (Vandalia) and Englewood Christian Assembly (Englewood). Due to the close proximity of Philipsburg to Englewood as well as its relatively low population, we anticipate that clients in that area will be able to access the Englewood mobile.

To view the dates and times of these and other mobiles, visit http://thefoodbankdayton.org/needfood/.

We have made the choice to release this map in stages while we evaluate how to serve communities identified as needing additional food resources. While our Mobile Farmers Markets are an excellent way to distribute food in high-need areas, the heart of our operation is the acquisition and distribution of food to our partner agencies.

As a more permanent solution, we prefer to work with organizations that are already active in those communities to stand up brick-and-mortar pantries. Our agency relations team works closely with a variety of community organizations to help them to provide services in these areas.

For a list of these partner agencies, visit http://thefoodbankdayton.org/agencies/. If you are interested in becoming a member of The Foodbank, please contact Jamie Robinson at jrobinson@thefoodbankdayton.org or by calling (937) 461-0265 x 14

 

*Preliminary results showed an expected coverage rate of 95%. The actual rate given by the University of Dayton team showed 97.3% coverage by headcount.

 


Recipe: Easy Lettuce Wraps

Recipe: Easy Lettuce Wraps

By Caitlyn McIntosh, SNAP/Outreach Lead, and Emily Gallion, Grants & Metrics Manager/Advocacy Manager

Occasionally we hear from students in the Miami Valley who want to collaborate with us on different school projects. This recipe is coming to you from Centerville High School Senior Megan Fahrenkamp, who collaborated with us on a cookbook for her Girl Scout Gold Award.

The cookbook was created using foods we hand out here at The Foodbank, encouraging families to be creative with their cooking and reduce food waste. 

Lettuce Wraps (serves 4)

Ingredients

  •     oil (of any kind)
  •     ½ of an onion (of any color)
  •     1 pound/package ground meat
  •     soy sauce
  •     salt
  •     pepper
  •     ½ of a head of lettuce (separated into big leaves)/½ of a bag of lettuce

 Instructions

  1. Separate leaves from lettuce head
  2. Heat oil to medium heat. Wash and dice onion, and cook until translucent.
  3. Add meat and cook until no longer pink.
  4. Season meat and onions with soy sauce, salt, and pepper.

Plating

  1. Wash lettuce and fill the lettuce leaves/top the bagged lettuce with meat mixture and serve. Pairs well with the Fried Rice recipe in this cookbook.