The Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy (OICA) primarily works on state issues, but occasionally a federal issue will appear that demands our attention. One federal issue that we feel compelled to weigh in on is the Farm Bill, specifically a proposal within the House version that prevents some formerly incarcerated people from receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) food assistance.
The House Farm Bill includes an amendment that would impose a lifetime ban on SNAP for returning citizens convicted of certain violent felonies, essentially presenting a lifetime punishment beyond their prison sentence. This ban would apply regardless of when the crime was committed, sentence completion, or compliance with terms of release.
Let me be blunt: the Oklahoma Institute for Child Advocacy is not in the business of defending violent criminals, especially those who may have hurt children. We understand that justice requires punishment. However, we also understand that public policy has very real consequences, and that a policy that makes it harder for criminals to return to society as productive citizens is ultimately bad for everyone, especially children.
According to the National Institute of Health, 91 percent of those released from incarceration experience food insecurity. Oklahoma already has a significantly large amount of our population which experiences food insecurity. Numbers provided by Hunger Free Oklahoma show that nearly one in four children in our state are currently facing food insecurity, meaning they have limited or inconsistent access to adequate daily food supplies. The House Amendment to the Farm Bill will increase these rates, and is especially cruel to children with parents who are leaving prison to return home and are now literally being cut-off from their next meal.
Lack of food access increases the likelihood of recidivism. According to the Center for Law and Social Policy, a recent Harvard Law School study found that SNAP, along with cash assistance, reduced by up to 10 percent the risk of recidivating within one year.
Oklahoma has made tremendous strides to improve our system of criminal justice. We have reduced some of our more draconian sentences on drug possession crimes, increased resources for rehabilitation, and focused on prevention and drug treatment programs that help addicts get healthy and stay out of legal trouble. Some lawmakers on the federal level are trying to pull us in the opposite direction and drag us backwards. If they succeed, their proposals will increase recidivism and a cycle of poverty and overincarceration, rather than giving opportunities to return to a normal and productive life for those who have paid their debt to society.
Such an amendment is counterproductive to the efforts so many have made in our state. Please make sure your voice is heard with your federal legislators so they will remove this amendment in the final version of the Farm Bill. You can find the contact information for our two US Senators and the five Congressional offices at https://www.govtrack.us/congress/members/OK and we encourage you to let them know that you share the concerns of OICA regarding this issue.