What does self-sufficiency have to do with those who are incarcerated or have criminal records?
Self-sufficiency, as defined by the Joint Legislative Audit and Review Commission (JLARC) in Virginia, is having sufficient income to provide for a family’s basic needs without relying on government assistance. This includes all basic items – childcare, food, housing, transportation, taxes, and other related living costs.
It is difficult to become disciplined enough to become self-sufficient; personal finances, bill pay, and saving money are not courses often taught in high school or college. Frequently, parent(s) struggle with sufficiency and debt and therefore, children are not receiving it at home. Yet, even if taught these lessons, developing the self-control to be responsible in these areas does not come naturally. Temptations come frequently and it is easy to sign up for a credit card and begin charging.
For people who are of the middle to upper income bracket, they have the finances available to be self-sufficient. While responsible decisions may not always be made, the ability to be self-sufficient should be present.
Look at the other side of the spectrum though – those who grew up in poverty, those who have dealt drugs their whole life and not had a “legal paying” job, or those who have been incarcerated and are not able to find employment. Even with the best of intentions, it is difficult to become self-sufficient with these situations present. For those I work with that are incarcerated or are not in jail but have a criminal background, many will only be able to qualify for a minimum wage job.
In Virginia, it takes about $35,000 of earnings for a single parent of two kids to BEGIN to exceed the dollar value of aggregate government support, even excluding disability income. So, where does that leave this population?
With mounting child support payments that continue to accrue while incarcerated, hefty court fines, and other accumulated debt, not to mention the everyday bills, a job paying minimum wage is not a realistic in becoming self-sufficient and law abiding. Additionally, in order to have a driver’s license reinstated (most who are incarcerated do not have a driver’s license), all fines must be paid to DMV (it is not uncommon to get out of jail with over $10,000 or more in fines). These debts, coupled with the basic living expenses, far exceed the salary earned from a minimum wage job. In discussion with offenders, I have heard multiple times, “I can make the same amount of money in a half of a day selling drugs as I can by working full time minimum wage job.” Because this is often the only life that is known, it is difficult to come to grips with the “new way of life” that seems to set them back further than they previously were.
Programs that attempt to curb poverty and lower crime rates need to also make logical sense in the reality that the affected individuals live in. Processes that address self-sufficiency should remain a main objective of such efforts.
Stay tuned – in the coming weeks, we will dig deeper into self-sufficiency and developing sustainable taxpayer support where truly needed while encouraging/enabling productive citizenship.