Wealth-Based Discrimination and the Criminalization of Poverty
Although Lady Justice wears a blindfold and the Scales of Justice are supposed to be evenly balanced between rich and poor, our justice system takes every opportunity to punish people who are poor. Although the United States only represents 5% of the world’s population, we account for 25% of those behind bars. Far too often, it is the poorest who sit in jail or prison, even if they have never been convicted. Police target poor communities, prosecutors take advantage of those who cannot afford legal representation, and judges give harsher sentences to those who are poor. It is not a crime to be poor, and our justice system should stop punishing poverty.
Policies that Create Cycles of Poverty
The role of government is to help end cycles of poverty by equipping people with the tools they need to live successful lives. If the government is not going to help end cycles of poverty, at the very least, it should not create them. But throughout our justice system, laws create, exacerbate, and perpetuate cycles of poverty by stripping citizens of the resources needed to be positively contributing members of society. We need to help people find jobs and establish homes so we can help stabilize housing and employment. Our justice system should never cause homelessness, nor should it create cycles of poverty.
Over-Criminalization as a Default Instead of Creative Solutions
Too often, legislatures turn to punishment as the default approach to any problem they don’t like. Policy experts know that there are better solutions than simply punishing people, but our legislators fail to think critically toward creative solutions. The failed War on Drugs is perhaps the most extreme example of over-criminalization: our government has wasted billions of dollars jailing those suffering from addiction instead of spending much less money on prevention and treatment. Time and time again, we see our justice system using punishment as a one-size-fits-all solution to every social problem. We need to develop more thoughtful, creative solutions that improve the lives of everyone.
Counterproductive Laws that Make us all Less Safe
By criminalizing poverty, our justice system is counterproductive. Laws that increase unemployment and homelessness not only destroy communities, but they also make us less safe. Academic research has confirmed that the best ways to reduce crime are by improving employment, promoting stable housing, and encouraging pro-social relationships. By creating barriers to family relationships, employment, and housing, our justice system actually increases recidivism rates. As a result of such counterproductive laws, we are all less safe.
Privatization of our Justice System
Privatization of our criminal justice system puts profits over people and creates incentives for extortion, corruption, threats, and prolonged imprisonment. Criminal justice should not be a profit center. This country’s legal system has for centuries been premised on neutral arbiters deciding guilt, innocence, and administration of justice. We mistrust any arrangement where actors in the system stray from their duty to administer justice impartially in exchange for personal profits. We are witness to privatization of almost every feature of justice, including prisons, probation, GPS tracking devices, and even courts that use private individuals as judges. When private companies profit off of the jailing of others, perverse incentives corrupt our justice system with catastrophic results.