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  July 20, 2015

Are Incarcerated People Poorer Than Non-Incarcerated People?

TRNN Executive Producer Eddie Conway speaks with Bernadette Rabuy from the Prison Policy Initiative about her new report on income levels of incarcerated persons.
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EDDIE CONWAY, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome to our Rattle the Bars segment here at the Real News Network. I'm Eddie Conway. And today we are drawing our attention to a recently published report titled Prisons of Poverty. This report by the Prison Policy Initiative provides the pre-incarceration income of the imprisoned and provides national data on the pre-incarceration income of incarcerated women.

Joining us today from East Hampton, Massachusetts is Bernadette Rabuy. Bernadette Rabuy joined the Prison Policy Initiative as a policy and communications associate in August 2014. Bernadette was recently on our show to discuss her insightful report Screening Out Family Time on the exploitive video visitation industry.

Welcome back to the show, Bernadette.


CONWAY: Okay. So what made you decide to create this report, Prisons of Poverty?

RABUY: The idea for the report actually came when I was preparing the report on video visitation in prisons and jails. And when I was doing that report I needed to show why the rate of $1.00 per minute for video visitation was simply too high for incarcerated people and their families, but the data that was out there was from 1991. So we decided to use a government data source that was already out there in order to update that figure to something that is now in 2014 dollars. Which is much more current, and then for the fist time provides pre-incarceration incomes for incarcerated women.

CONWAY: Does this report cover local, state, and federal institutions?

RABUY: It only includes state prisons, actually.

CONWAY: What does this report tell us about incarcerated persons by race, ethnicity, and gender?

RABUY: What the report shows is that all incarcerated people, whether they are black, white, Hispanic, or men or women, they all make less than their non-incarcerated counterparts even before they go to prison. So the research has long said that people with criminal records who have served sentences make less after they are released from prison. But what we wanted to show was that these are people who are poorer even before they go to prison.

CONWAY: By the way, we are showing figures one and two from the report so our audience can see the income levels.

RABUY: Yeah, so you can see from those figures that the incarcerated people make 41 percent less than the typical non-incarcerated person. And we adjusted these figures by age because we know that people who are incarcerated tend to be younger than the general population. So these figures are for people ages 27-41.

CONWAY: So let's work through the report a bit more with figures three and four. Please describe these graphs to our audience.

RABUY: Figures three and four show the distribution of incomes of incarcerated people versus non-incarcerated people. What they show is that incarcerated men and women are really concentrated at the lowest incomes, whereas that's definitely not true for men and women who are not incarcerated.

CONWAY: Who did you collaborate with on this report? And what was your methodology?

RABUY: We collaborated with a data scientist, Daniel Kopf, who is a member of our young professionals network, which is a way for people to be involved through volunteer work or anything that they can do from remotely, most of the time. So he's a member of that and we worked together on this.

Because the Bureau of Justice Statistics has a survey, which is what we used to get the data for this report. But the way that it's available online it's not accessible to the public unless you have specific statistical software. So what we wanted to do was make this data available to people in a format that people understand and that they can easily read without having to get special software.

CONWAY: It seems like this required a very careful analysis and interpretation of the stats that make this accessible to the general public.

RABUY: Yeah, it did. It took a lot of back and forth. For example, adjusting for age is really important. The numbers would have been very different if we hadn't done that. And there were some other things we did with the numbers to make them more accessible.

For example, one thing we did is adjust for inflation. So the survey is actually quite old, but unfortunately it's the most recent data that is available. So the survey was conducted back in 2004, which is kind of old. But unfortunately the Bureau of Justice Statistics won't be doing another one, and so there wont' be newer data for at least another few years.

So we adjusted for inflation so that these are in numbers that people understand in today's dollars. And then another thing we did is the survey asked for people's incomes a month before they were incarcerated. So what we did is change those numbers from monthly to annual. So hoping once again that people will be able to better understand those numbers.

CONWAY: Well, how do you envision this report being utilized to create effective public policy changes?

RABUY: We decided to really make this report as simple as possible with really just one takeaway, which was proving the obvious, that incarcerated people are poorer than non-incarcerated people of the same race, ethnicity, or gender and of similar ages. And we're really hoping that people can take this data and use it for their different causes. For example, one way is hopefully this will add some more urgency to the debates around ending employment discrimination for people with criminal convictions.

Another thing that we're really hoping to start the conversation on is how some of these communities where--that send the most people to prison or jail have been neglected by our government and our social services. So we're hoping that this report will also add fuel to that conversation about how maybe in some ways our social services and policies failed some of these people before they even went to prison.

CONWAY: Okay. Thank you, Bernadette, for joining our show, Rattle the Bars. This was very comprehensive.

RABUY: Thanks so much.

CONWAY: And thank you for joining the Real News.


DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.


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