The Impact of Incarceration on Food Insecurity among Households with Children

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This study seeks to determine the role that parental incarceration plays on the probability of food insecurity among families with children and very low food security of children using micro-level data from the Fragile Families and Child Well Being Study (FFCWS). The data set contains the 18-question food security module which allows us to explore the link between incarceration and food insecurity and very low food security among children, families, and adults. The incidence of very low food security in our data is somewhat higher than the national average, but the incidence of other levels of food security is similar to national aggregates. Since there is likely reverse causality in the relationship between parental incarceration and food insecurity, we employ a variety of program evaluation techniques to identify the causal relationship between food insecurity and parental incarceration. We employ imputation techniques to account for non-response among the food security variables and independent variables. Our ordinary least squares results suggest that having at least one parent that has ever been incarcerated has a small positive effect (1 to 4 percentage points) on the probability of very low food security among children, adults and households with children, but the results are not significant in various specification. Food insecurity for adults and households with children (a less dire level of food insecurity than very low food security) is affected by parental incarceration under most specifications with magnitudes of impact from 4 to 15 percentage points. This research provides some evidence that incarceration adversely affects children and families in terms of food insecurity. Policies to mitigate the impact could be addressed through the court system whereby children are provided with court-sanctioned support to address food needs.
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