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Department of Criminal Justice California State University - Bakersfield CRJU 330 Race, Ethnicity and Criminal Justice Dr. Abu-Lughod, Reem Ali And the Poor Get Prison
INTRODUCTION: F The CJ system unfairly weeds out the well-to- do from the system, so that most of the people involved in the justice system are of the lower class F Reiman doesn’t discuss this issue as racial bias but rather as economic bias. For similar behaviors, the poor are likely to be caught, arrested, convicted, sentenced with long prison terms F Research shows that youth who belong to the lower class are more likely to be referred to a juvenile court than a kids from the middle/upper class committing the same offense.
F We target the poor for the crimes they usually commit, such as burglary, robbery, assault, etc…. However for the crimes that the poor never commit such as antitrust violations, embezzlement, tax invasion, etc… the CJ system is rather blind to those who are likely to be involved in these crimes. F Those offenders who are assigned lawyers or public defenders do not get adequate time spent on their case. Because of case loads and other reasons. F Weeding out the wealthy takes place at the very beginning in the CJ system
F The poor are struck with a double-edged sword, not only are the poor arrested and charged out of proportion to their numbers for the kinds of crimes poor people generally commit- burglary, robbery, assault and so forth- but when we reach the kinds of crimes poor people almost never have the opportunity to commit, such as antitrust violations, industrial safety violations, embezzlement and serious tax evasion, the criminal justice system shows increasingly benign and merciful face (Reiman 1995:109).
F Reiman briefly discusses the cost of white-collar crime. These individuals are rarely charged and when charged, done so in a much friendlier way. IT is very widespread, probably much more than the crimes of the poor.
n In the adjudication process, Reiman believes that only two things should count, 1) whether the accused is guilty and 2) whether it can be proved beyond a reasonable doubt. n Unfortunately, two more factors play an important role. They are 1) the ability of the accused to be free on bail and 2) access to legal counsel able to devote adequate time and effort to the case.
n This pushes them toward a guilty plea so as not to have to stand trial and risk spending more time in jail, but it increases guilty pleas and results in being labeled a criminal (Reiman 1995: 115). With the issue of legal counsel, individuals who have assigned lawyers or public defenders are not given lawyers who have an adequate amount of time to give to their case. These lawyers are overbooked and cannot focus on this one case like private lawyer can.
n Public defenders achieved either dismissal of charges or finding of not guilty in 11.4 percent of indictments, private attorneys get their clients off the hook in 56 percent of their cases (Reiman 1995: 117). Reiman argues that regardless of what fraction of crimes are committed by the poor, the criminal justice system is distorted so that an even greater fraction of those convicted will be poor (Reiman 1995:117).
n The same pattern is true for sentencing. For individuals guilty of similar offenses and with similar prior records, unemployed defendants were more likely to be incarcerated while awaiting trial and for longer periods than employed defendants (Chiricos and Bales in Reiman, 1995: ).
u Reiman sums up the fact that the poor are more likely to get prison sentences by stating that the criminal justice system has a triple bias against the poor. 1. Economic class bias between harmful acts as to which get labeled crimes and which are treated as regulatory matters.
2. There is economic class bias between crimes. The crimes that poor people are likely to commit carry harsher sentences than the crimes in the suites committed by the well to do. 3. Among defendants convicted of the same crimes, the poor receive less probation and more years of confinement than well-off defendants, assuring us once again that the vast majority of those put behind bars are from the lowest social and economic classes in the nation
u Reiman then asks who is winning the losing war on crime. He claims the criminal justice system fails in three ways. F Failure to implement policies that stand a good chance of reducing crime and the harm it causes.
F There is a failure to identify as crimes the harmful acts of the rich and powerful. F There is a failure to eliminate economic bias in the greater chance than better-off people of being arrested, charged, convicted and penalized for committing the acts that are treated as crime
The Pyrrhic defeat theory n tries to explain this system’s persistence, rather than its origin. n This is best done when looking at Reiman’s concept of historical inertia. The historical inertia explanation argues that current criminal justice policy persists because it fails in a way that does not give rise to an effective demand for change for two reasons.
u 1) This failing system provides benefits for those with the power to make changes, while it imposes costs on those without such power. u 2) Because the criminal justice system shapes the public’s conception of what is dangerous, it creates the impression that the harms it is fighting are the real threats to society- thus even when people see that the system is less than a roaring success, they generally do no more than demand some more of the same: more police, more prisons, longer prison sentencing (Reiman, 1995: 151).
n The effect of these messages then is to funnel the discontent of the middle class American into hostility toward and fear of the poor. n It leads Americans to ignore the way in which they are injured and robbed by the acts of the affluent and leads them to demand harsher doses of law and order aimed mainly at the lower class.
n Those who suffer most from the failure to reduce crime are not in a position to change criminal justice policy. n Those who are in position to change the policy are not seriously harmed by it, but are in fact helped by it (Reiman 1995: ). n Thus the criminal justice system "focuses moral condemnation on individuals and deflects it away from the social order that may have either violated the individual’s rights or literally pushed him or her to the brink of crime" (Reiman, 1995:157).
n To explain crime, Reiman takes from Cloward and Ohlin’s Differential Opportunity Theory and emphasizes the impact of the American dream and few legitimate opportunities to obtain it. n He says, "Crime is a means by which people who believe in the American dream pursue it, when they find traditional routes barred" (Reiman, 1995: 158).
F Cloward and Ohlin. Lack of access to opportunity causes feelings of frustration which eventually leads to delinquency F It is differential because of the unequal distribution of legal and illegal means which is also determined by race and class
n Because these universal goals are urged to encourage a competition to select the best, there are necessarily fewer openings than seekers. n Also, because those who achieve success are in a particularly good position to exploit their success to make access for their own children easier, the competition is rigged to work in favor of the middle and upper classes.
n As a result, many lower class persons are the victims of a contradiction between the goals toward which they have been led to orient themselves and socially structured means of striving for these goals (Reiman, 1995: ) n Therefore, by painting this picture that the greatest threats to the middle class comes from those below them on the economic ladder, the middle class does not focus their attention on those above them on the ladder who are actually causing them more harm (Reiman, 1995: 161).