This publication was informed by research conducted by Dr. Annie Harper (Program for Recovery and Community Health, Yale School of Medicine) and Dr. Tommaso Bardelli (New York University). Funding was generously provided by the Fahs-Beck Foundation for Research and Experimentation. Thank you to Anderson Curtis of Smart Justice/SCLU, Daryl McGraw of FormerlyInc, Tiheba Bain of Women Against Mass Incarceration-CT, Jennifer Mellon, Steve August and others for their expert guidance. For further information please contact
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After release, there are things you can do to manage and lessen the impact of any debts you have as you are moving on with your life in the community. You can also look at this helpful guide created by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau.
In the months after his release, Alejandro was making considerable headway towards greater stability, helped by a full-time job as a valet parking attendant.

Because he was living in his sister’s apartment, he was able to save some money, as he made plans to get his own place and hopefully purchase a car, which would allow him to find a better job.

Yet, the closer he got to his goals, the more of a financial mess he seemed to be in.

Before he could buy a car, Alejandro had first to recover his license, for which he had to pay various unpaid parking tickets and DMV fees.
To be able to get a car loan one day, he would need a higher credit score. Improving his score, in turn, required paying off the utility and other debts he owed, such as child support, a bank overdraft and back taxes.

As thesefinancial barriers to achieving his goals kept coming up, Alejandro’s mental health suffered, as did his relationship with his sister, and he found it increasingly difficult to maintain his sobriety.


Even if you weren’t able to take steps to put your finances in order before incarceration, there are things you can do from prison to make sure that you aren’t overwhelmed with financial problems when you get out.
About one year after his release, Carlos was still struggling to make ends meet: he and his wife were working minimum-wage jobs with irregular and unpredictable hours, while caring for three young children.

When he was finally offered a full-time position at a landscaping company, Carlos figured he needed a mobile phone, but found that he could not get one due to several hundred dollars he owed to a cable company, for bills incurred while he was in prison.
Around the same time, Carlos realized he also had another debt he knew nothing about, $900 to the electric company. Realizing he must have been a victim of identity theft, Carlos made a report to the police department.

There he was told it would likely take months to solve the issue, and Carlos needed the phone now.

He had no choice but to pay the bill himself, further straining his household finances.


Getting arrested and sentenced can be a distressing, chaotic time, and it can be difficult to put your finances in order before being incarcerated. But there are some things you can do to reduce the financial problems you might face when you are released.
When Shanice was arrested, the last thing she thought to do was call the electric company to cancel service at her one-bedroom apartment, which she shared with her boyfriend. It wasn’t easy to do from the local jail even if she had wanted to: phone access was limited and calls extremely costly.

Also, her boyfriend was still living in the apartment, and Shanice saw no reason to let him go without lights.

Shanice also didn’t think about her bank account – she just hoped she’d have some money left in it when she came out.

After release, Shanice’s decisions came back to haunt her.
Her ex-boyfriend had ‘run’ with her electric account for as long as he could until the lights were shut off, leaving the balance unpaid.

When Shanice came out of prison, her bank account had gone overdrawn due to monthly fees and the bank had closed it, her credit was ruined, and the utility company wouldn’t open a new account until she paid the arrears, making it impossible for her to find a landlord in the city who would take her housing voucher.


When you return to the community from prison, you may have to deal with debts and being behind on bills, which can be stressful and get in the way of successful reentry. People who are incarcerated often have debts even before they go to prison, and those debts can get worse, and additional debts pile up, while a person is in prison, and as they deal with the reentry process after release.
This guide outlines steps that you can take before, during and after incarceration to try to avoid these financial issues.