Denying Drug Felons Food Stamps is Counter-Productive to Successful Reentry
Date:  03-18-2013

Children of felons, health risks and public safety are some of the collateral consequences associated with a ban on assistance
What do food, particularly healthy food, and successful reentry have in common? Plenty. A July 31, 2012 post in Reentry Central discussed a Fortune Society report Mapping the Intersections: Criminal Justice Involvement and Food Insecurity in New York City. Reentry Central wrote, "Prison diets are not always the healthiest, and when reentrants come back into the community the diet to which they now have access to is not often much better. Since a poor diet is a precursor to poor health, those with poor nutrition are often seen more by doctors, and admitted into the hospital at a higher rate than those with healthy eating habits. How does a poor diet relate to reentry? The physical ailments associated with poor nutrition might prevent someone from being hired, or from keeping a job. The report states that poor nutrition contributes to aggression, anxiety and depression, and also decreases one’s productivity. With the other road blocks reentrants face, being food insecure can add another barrier to successful reentry ” To read the report click here to go to website

Yet in some states drug felons are denied food stamps. The Legal Action Center report After Prison: Roadblocks to Reentry, A Report on State Legal Barriers Facing People with Criminal Recordsexplains: “The 1996 federal welfare law prohibits anyone convicted of a drug-related felony from receiving federally funded food stamps and cash assistance (also known as TANF - Temporary Assistance for Needy Families). This is a lifetime ban -- even if someone has completed his or her sentence, overcome an addiction, been employed but got laid off, or earned a certificate of rehabilitation. States have the option of passing legislation to limit the ban or eliminate it altogether.” Since the report was written more states have opted out of the ban, but several more still enforce it.

Hungry people, with a felony drug conviction or not, are apt to commit crimes to feed themselves and their families. The ban on food stamps and cash assistance for drug felons can add to an increase in correctional budgets as reentrants are recycled through the criminal justice system. Some might ask if the ban is fiscally sensible. Comparing the costs of providing assistance to a drug felon until he or she gets back on their feet to the cost of re-incarcerating them for crimes committed while attempting to feed themselves, should be investigated. The cost of providing medical treatment for reentrants with chronic illnesses, exacerbated by poor diets, should also be taken under consideration.

A New York Times editorial published on March 17 takes up the cry to end the ban on drug felons receiving food or cash assistance. The Times points out that the children of these felons are often the collateral consequences of the ban. The editorial also acknowledges the fact that women (and men) might seek work in the sex trade to feed themselves and their children, which can lead to arrest, or health issues.

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