Identifying the link between food security and incarceration

Publication Year


Journal Article

Previous work has found that incarceration (defined as confinement in an adult correctional facility) has a variety of impacts on the incarcerated individual and their families including effects on employment and income, educational outcomes of children, and food insecurity (Wallace and Cox 2012). However, previous literature does not identify a causal impact of incarceration on food insecurity. From a policy perspective, identification of a causal link may aid in understanding why some affected families experience food insecurity, while similarly situated families do not. In this article, we utilize microlevel data from the Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study to provide evidence of a causal impact of incarceration on food insecurity. This is an important dynamic to understand because the prevalence of incarceration in the United States is relatively high, especially among groups where food insecurity is more prevalent (e.g., Blacks), and the associated externalities can have substantial impacts on families that may reach well beyond traditional costs associated with incarceration. The complex relationship between food insecurity and incarceration is estimated within a causal inference approach. We find evidence that incarceration leads to roughly a 4 percentage point increase in the likelihood of food insecurity among households with children that have experienced a parental incarceration.

Southern Economic Journal