New data clearly illustrate the poverty-to-prison pipeline

Hard times.
Hard times.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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In the US, boys born into poor households often end up in prison as adults. Boys born into rich ones almost never do.

This is the eye-opening finding of a recently released analysis by the Brookings Institution. The report finds that boys born into households in the bottom 10% of earners are 20 times more likely to be in prison on a given day in their early 30s than children born into the top 10%. The research is based on a first-of-its-kind dataset linking people incarcerated from 2009 to 2013 to data on their parents’ earnings reported to the Internal Revenue Service.

The following chart shows the estimates of incarceration rates for boys born between 1980 and 1986 that were in prison or jail on a given day in 2012.

In addition to highlighting income as an important predictor of future imprisonment, the researchers note that race and segregation play a large role. Neighborhoods with high rates of poverty and large shares of black or American Indian residents have even higher rates of incarceration than incomes alone would predict.