Sunday, March 9, 2008

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison

Jeffrey Reiman's book The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison is an important critique of the US criminal justice system. The philosophy scholar argues that the sources of crime are well known (e.g. poverty, prisons, guns, drugs) but that little is done to reduce the causes. In fact, he argues, the criminal justice system has a vested interest in its own failures (The Pyrrhic Defeat Theory).

Other important points in the book:

Reiman cites a 1996 Rand study that indicates what works to reduce crime (preventing child abuse/neglect, enhancing children's intellectual and social development, providing support guidance to vulnerable adolescents, working extensively with juvenile offenders).

Reiman asks important questions: Who defines crime? How is the public image of crime created? How is crime not defined? What is the image we have of criminals? Why do white collar crooks get so little in comparison to the damage they do to society, and why is white collar crime rarely reported?

22% of all assailants are perceived to be Black, but 42% of those arrested are Black. Blacks make up no more than 13% of all drug abusers but 74% of those in prison for drugs. Discrimination occurs at all phases of the criminal justice system from arrest to imprisonment. The race of the victim and the race of the defendant are significantly related to use of the death penalty.

According to Reiman, people who cannot see a better way to curb crime, other than to lockup millions,lack imagination. He adds that "the crime and disorder which flow from hopeless poverty, unloved children, and drug abuse can't be solved by bottomless prisons, mandatory sentencing minimums or more police."

Reiman concludes with eight solutions for a more just society:

1. End poverty
2. Let punishment fit the criminal harm
3. Legalize drugs
4. Correctional programs that promote responsibility and prepare the prisoner for reentry
5. Gun control
6. Limit discretion of police, prosecutors, and judges
7. Right to equal counsel
8. More just distribution of wealth

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