A new study from the Brookings Institute reveals that around half of the prison population had no earnings in the years leading up to their incarceration. That number goes up to 80 percent when analyzing only the year before their incarceration.

The study examined both IRS filings and the BJS National Prisoner Survey to come up with these disturbing conclusions. It also found that predominantly Black neighborhoods had high child poverty rates and high male unemployment rates where the incarceration rate was the highest. Conversely white, affluent areas made up the lowest percentage of incarceration rates, signaling that over-policing and policing in general focuses on poor Black neighborhoods.

Around half of what they term “prime age men” are employed three years prior to their incarceration, and when they are employed, their median income is only about $6,250, which means they are underemployed.

Upon leaving prison, the men don’t fare much better. 12 months after their release, a little more than half of these men report that they are making money, and their median income is around $10,000 a year.

Additionally, boys who grew up in families earning less than $14,000 a year are 20 times as likely to spend at least a day in prison than those whose families earn more than $143,000 a year. Study authors Adam Looney and Nicolas Turner estimate that around one out of every ten boys born to lowest income families are incarcerated at age 30, and make up around 27% of the prison population.

The authors recommend that in order to alleviate these conditions, policy interventions need to be implemented to reduce child poverty which will improve outcomes later in life:

The poor labor market outcomes we see prior to incarceration, as well as the strong relationship between childhood conditions and later incarceration, suggests that there are other barriers to employment beyond incarceration. Policies focused earlier in life that increase childhood investments, reduce discrimination, reform criminal justice practices, or target economic distress in specific neighborhoods may be more effective tools for both reducing future incarceration rates and by aiding reentry following release.

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