States Should Give Temporary Guaranteed Income to People Exiting Incarceration

States Should Give Temporary Guaranteed Income to People Exiting Incarceration

The Point

Barriers to employment, housing, and basic necessities make stability difficult, if not entirely out of reach, for individuals returning to their community after prison. States can improve public safety and increase postrelease success by providing a temporary guaranteed income to people exiting prison. 

States should implement temporary guaranteed income programs for people exiting incarceration: 

  • States should provide a temporary guaranteed income (TGI) as a “transitional buffer.” Temporary direct payments to individuals who are leaving prison can increase their success in obtaining employment, housing, and general economic stability—all of which reduce recidivism. A Bureau of Justice Statistics study indicates that the risk of recidivism is highest during the first year of reentry, so states should provide TGI for at least 12 months.
  • States should not place barriers in the way of TGI. To most effectively support reentry, payments should not be tied to program participation, supervision compliance, or treatment completion. The goal is to remove barriers to securing basic necessities, not reconfigure them. 
  • States can establish and fund TGI through marijuana legalization and related legislation. In a recent Appeal Lab report, Suffolk University Professor Lucius Couloute recommends that states “conceive of marijuana legalization and equity provisions as components of a justice reinvestment strategy aimed at reducing crime, economic costs, and over-criminalization.” With that understanding, tax revenue from legalization could fund TGI payments as a way of repairing some of the harm done by the War on Drugs.   

Guaranteed income helps address the circumstances that lead to crime:

  • TGI is a public safety strategy. Crime is prevented by increasing employment, ensuring access to mental health or substance use treatment, and providing other pathways toward stability. By taking care of basic needs, TGI allows individuals who are reentering communities to focus on increasing stability.
  • Professor Couloute explains that “those who have been to prison suffer from Depression-level unemployment rates, homelessness that far outpaces the general public, and a three-year re-arrest rate of 68 percent.” A temporary guaranteed income could mitigate each of these barriers. For example, the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration (SEED) found that participants in the program generally used the monthly $500 they received to pay for necessities like food, utilities, and transportation. Participants were able to then complete education and training opportunities to secure employment or promotions. 
  • Guaranteed income programs specifically focused on returning residents are growing. Community Works, a non-profit organization in Oakland, California, has received funding to pilot a guaranteed income program that will provide a monthly income of $500 for at least 12 months to individuals reentering their community after incarceration. The city of Gainesville, Florida is partnering with non-profit Community Spring on a pilot program scheduled to launch in October that will send $600 monthly checks to some formerly incarcerated people. And the Durham City Council proposed using grant money to create a guaranteed income program that would give a designated group of formerly incarcerated people $500 to $1,000 a month. That program is also expected to launch in the fall.

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