NOT A CRIME TO BE POOR

THE CRIMINALIZATION OF POVERTY IN AMERICA

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

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. 31, 2017

ISBN: 978-1-62097-163-5

Page Count: 320

Publisher: The New Press

Review Posted Online: Aug. 5, 2017

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Aug. 15, 2017

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WHEN BREATH BECOMES AIR

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular...

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A neurosurgeon with a passion for literature tragically finds his perfect subject after his diagnosis of terminal lung cancer.

Writing isn’t brain surgery, but it’s rare when someone adept at the latter is also so accomplished at the former. Searching for meaning and purpose in his life, Kalanithi pursued a doctorate in literature and had felt certain that he wouldn’t enter the field of medicine, in which his father and other members of his family excelled. “But I couldn’t let go of the question,” he writes, after realizing that his goals “didn’t quite fit in an English department.” “Where did biology, morality, literature and philosophy intersect?” So he decided to set aside his doctoral dissertation and belatedly prepare for medical school, which “would allow me a chance to find answers that are not in books, to find a different sort of sublime, to forge relationships with the suffering, and to keep following the question of what makes human life meaningful, even in the face of death and decay.” The author’s empathy undoubtedly made him an exceptional doctor, and the precision of his prose—as well as the moral purpose underscoring it—suggests that he could have written a good book on any subject he chose. Part of what makes this book so essential is the fact that it was written under a death sentence following the diagnosis that upended his life, just as he was preparing to end his residency and attract offers at the top of his profession. Kalanithi learned he might have 10 years to live or perhaps five. Should he return to neurosurgery (he could and did), or should he write (he also did)? Should he and his wife have a baby? They did, eight months before he died, which was less than two years after the original diagnosis. “The fact of death is unsettling,” he understates. “Yet there is no other way to live.”

A moving meditation on mortality by a gifted writer whose dual perspectives of physician and patient provide a singular clarity.

Pub Date: Jan. 19, 2016

ISBN: 978-0-8129-8840-6

Page Count: 248

Publisher: Random House

Review Posted Online: Sept. 29, 2015

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Oct. 15, 2015

GOOD ECONOMICS FOR HARD TIMES

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

“Quality of life means more than just consumption”: Two MIT economists urge that a smarter, more politically aware economics be brought to bear on social issues.

It’s no secret, write Banerjee and Duflo (co-authors: Poor Economics: A Radical Rethinking of the Way To Fight Global Poverty, 2011), that “we seem to have fallen on hard times.” Immigration, trade, inequality, and taxation problems present themselves daily, and they seem to be intractable. Economics can be put to use in figuring out these big-issue questions. Data can be adduced, for example, to answer the question of whether immigration tends to suppress wages. The answer: “There is no evidence low-skilled migration to rich countries drives wage and employment down for the natives.” In fact, it opens up opportunities for those natives by freeing them to look for better work. The problem becomes thornier when it comes to the matter of free trade; as the authors observe, “left-behind people live in left-behind places,” which explains why regional poverty descended on Appalachia when so many manufacturing jobs left for China in the age of globalism, leaving behind not just left-behind people but also people ripe for exploitation by nationalist politicians. The authors add, interestingly, that the same thing occurred in parts of Germany, Spain, and Norway that fell victim to the “China shock.” In what they call a “slightly technical aside,” they build a case for addressing trade issues not with trade wars but with consumption taxes: “It makes no sense to ask agricultural workers to lose their jobs just so steelworkers can keep theirs, which is what tariffs accomplish.” Policymakers might want to consider such counsel, especially when it is coupled with the observation that free trade benefits workers in poor countries but punishes workers in rich ones.

Occasionally wonky but overall a good case for how the dismal science can make the world less—well, dismal.

Pub Date: Nov. 12, 2019

ISBN: 978-1-61039-950-0

Page Count: 432

Publisher: PublicAffairs

Review Posted Online: Aug. 28, 2019

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Sept. 15, 2019

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