Punishment and Welfare: Paternal Incarceration and Families’ Receipt of Public Assistance


By bhadmin February 2, 2021

The United States criminal justice and welfare systems are two important government institutions in the lives of the poor. Despite many theoretical discussions about their relationship, their operation at the level of offenders and families remains poorly understood. This paper utilizes Fragile Families and Child Wellbeing data to examine how recent paternal incarceration is associated with families’ receipt of TANF, food stamps, and Medicaid/SCHIP. Results robust to multiple tests find that incarceration is not related to subsequent TANF receipt but is significantly associated with increased receipt of food stamps and Medicaid/SCHIP. The findings suggest that greater government involvement among poor families is an unexpected consequence of mass imprisonment; however, increased participation does not include TANF—the cash assistance program of most concern to theorists.

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