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Hunger and Humanity: Connecting Food Justice and Criminal Justice

Hunger and Humanity: Connecting Food Justice and Criminal Justice

The root causes of hunger are systemic injustices — including the intersectionalities of racism, classism, sexism and more — which create and perpetuate the conditions that sustain hunger. From mass incarceration to exorbitant fines and the money-bail system to over-sentencing, the U.S. criminal justice system is one of the systems that continues hunger. Through these discriminatory practices, the criminal justice system entrenches generational poverty, particularly in BIPOC (Black, Indigenous and all People of Color) and gender expansive communities who experience disproportionate police violence, arrest and incarceration.

These systemic failures lead to unjust debt, family separation, and loss of employment and housing — all root causes of hunger. Incarceration contributes to food insecurity in a number of ways following release, due to economic instability, adverse effects on physical and mental health, and isolating people from social communities. And it doesn’t just impact the person incarcerated — a parental history of criminal justice involvement significantly increases odds of persistent household food insecurity. Further, the criminalization of poverty and homelessness traps people in the legal system through unpayable debts and criminalized acts of survival.

To truly end hunger for good, we have to address the legacy of systemic racism and disinvestment that continues to drive hunger and poverty in our communities today. Studies show that 90 percent of people returning from incarceration experience food insecurity. Among households with a formerly incarcerated member, 70 percent struggle to meet essential needs like food and housing. That’s why we need a public safety system that is built on accountability and growth – not one that perpetuates isolation and makes it harder to fully participate in our communities.

Criminal Justice + Hunger in Oregon

Systemic racism — the ideology of White supremacy that denigrates the value and dignity of Black, Indigenous and all People of Color (BIPOC) — is embedded in Oregon’s criminal justice system. From the criminalization of poverty in our laws to racial disparities in arrests, convictions and sentencing, our criminal justice system entrenches generational poverty and worsens hunger in communities of color.

Systemic racism shows up in the disparities we see in food insecurity across Oregon and Southwest Washington: Black households face hunger at twice the rate of White households.

It shows up in the disproportionate convictions of Black and Hispanic men for drug possession right here in Oregon.

It shows up in consistent racial profiling: research shows that police stop Black men five times more often than White men.

Over more than three decades, our work to address food insecurity — and our own lived experiences — confirm the undeniable connection between hunger, racism and other forms of systemic inequities.

Systemic racism is woven through our lives and our criminal justice system — and stark racial inequities within this system keeps our communities in hunger and poverty. Hunger and poverty will not end without criminal justice reform, here in Oregon and across the nation. This is why we are so clear in our belief that racial justice is food justice — and why our commitment to equity is also a commitment to action toward healing, true justice and transformative change in our communities.


We are grateful to the organizations above and many other groups for leading the efforts to reimagine safety in Oregon.

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