Mass incarceration is a hot topic in the United States these days. With all of the points raised, there is sure to be one that will be overlooked. That missed aspect is the families of inmates and the toll that their loved one’s incarceration takes on them. The Huffington Post recently examined this issue through a study conducted by the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights based in California, Forward Together and other organizations. The study “reveals the plight that the families of more than 2.4 million inmates face.”
In the piece, a woman named Carla Gonzalez was interviewed. Ten years ago, her brother was locked up for bringing undocumented immigrants into the United States. She told HuffPo that her mother has suffered from severe depression and lost 60 pounds, due to her brother’s incarceration. the situation has also been a serious financial burden for her parents. They didn’t want her brother to have a public defender, so they hired a lawyer at an estimated cost of $150,000. They had to refinance their home, work multiple jobs and cut back on food to deal with the debt. Gonzalez’s family also incurred more costs for prison visits. She said, “Every time you visit the prison, you have to pay for gas and food. My parents had to invest in a new car so they didn’t have to rent cars every time they went.”
The case of Carla Gonzalez and her family is no different than the multitude of other families with a family member doing time. The most heavily affected are women. According to the study–which surveyed 300 family members–83% are taking on court-related costs, half of which are women of color. 67% said that recently released individuals rely on the family for housing, and one in five “faced eviction or were denied housing themselves.” Prison visits and phone calls were the reason 34% were falling into debt.
Alicia Walters of Forward Together suggests that phone calls to jails and prisons be free to try to ease the burden on these families. She also recommended that the convicts should not be sent 100 miles and more from their families. She also “hopes to restore access to food stamps, public housing and income assistance for convicted felons leaving their cells for the last time,” as a long-term policy change. “Family is what’s most successful to provide the recently released with jobs, housing and really helping them to make a fresh start,” said Walters. “The states make it so hard for families to even get by, yet they’re our best resource in this situation to keep people out of prisons.”