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Who Pays? The True Cost of Incarceration on Families

This study from the Ella Baker Center for Human Rights, Forward Together, and Research Action Design looks at the apparent and hidden costs of incarceration for families, including fees and fines, impacts on mental and physical health, and challenges in maintaining relationships. Some key findings are:

  • People with criminal records often have fees, fines, and debt, while their economic opportunities are also diminished.
  • Families lose income and struggle to meet basic needs when a family member who was a wage-earning contributor is incarcerated.
  • Women bear a large burden of the costs—both financial and emotional—of their family member’s incarceration.
  • Families are the primary resource for housing, employment, and health needs of individuals returning home from incarceration.

Based on the findings, the report provides recommendations around three broad categories that help support and stabilize vulnerable families, communities, and incarcerated individuals: Restructuring and Reinvesting, Removing Barriers, and Restoring Opportunities.