NOT A CRIME TO BE POOR by Peter Edelman


The Criminalization of Poverty in America
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How poor people are being punished for their poverty.

Supported by compelling evidence of endemic injustice, Edelman (Law and Public Policy/Georgetown Univ. Law Center; So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America, 2012, etc.), faculty director of Georgetown’s Center on Poverty and Inequality, presents a hard-hitting argument for reform. Joining critiques offered by writers such as Chris Hayes (A Colony in a Nation), Michelle Alexander (The New Jim Crow), and Matthew Desmond (Evicted), Edelman underscores the ways in which impoverished individuals are victimized by the criminal justice system. “Low income people are arrested for minor violations that are only annoyances for people with means,” he writes, and they face penalties they cannot afford to pay. Failure to pay results in additional fines, repeated driver’s license suspensions, and incarceration. Shockingly, 43 states charge for having a public defender. In addition, to accrue revenue, states have increased fines for minor infractions. Fines for speeding tickets have soared to $300 or more. Students who commit low-level offenses often are sent into the criminal system rather than to the principal’s office. To monitor probation, 13 states employ for-profit companies that impose high fees, and 44 states charge offenders for the costs of their own probation or parole, which include fees for electronic bracelets, drug testing, alcohol monitoring, driving classes, and home supervision. Mentally ill inmates receive no treatment or at best minimal attention; Edelman cites Corizon, “the largest for-profit mental health provider in the country for prisons, jails and detention centers,” as particularly egregious. After documenting case after shocking case in the first part of the book, Edelman proposes that the real solution to injustice lies in ending poverty: “prenatal care for all, child development for all children, first-class education for all, decent jobs and effective work supports, affordable housing, health and mental health, lawyers as needed, safe neighborhoods,” healthy communities, and “social, racial and gender justice.” He presents case histories of achievements in several communities, fueling his optimism.

An impassioned call for an “overarching movement” for justice.

Pub Date: Oct. 31st, 2017
ISBN: 978-1-62097-163-5
Page count: 320pp
Publisher: New Press
Review Posted Online:
Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15th, 2017


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