On This PageWP 2006-13

Female Offenders Use of Social Welfare Programs Before and After Jail and Prison: Does Prison Cause Welfare Dependency?
Last Updated: 11/21/06
Prior studies indicate that incarcerated women are among the most economically disadvantaged populations in the U.S. An important difference between them and male offenders is that these women are usually custodial parents. Therefore, the consequences of incarceration for their well being are especially important because of its effect on children. In this paper we focus on the links between incarceration and use of the social welfare system. Is prison, for example associated with increased welfare dependency? To better understand this relationship, we examine the temporal pattern of social welfare receipt for 45,000 female offenders from Cook County, Illinois, the second most populated county in the United States. We find that this group does in fact have high rates of social welfare receipt, especially if they were incarcerated in state prison rather than in county jail. But incarceration is associated with modestly lower rates of social welfare receipt, especially for the less advantaged among the population of offenders. Further, bans on TANF receipt for drug felons enacted as part of welfare reform have not significantly affected this population's attachment to the social welfare system.