Poverty and the Criminal Justice System

The police harassment of homeless people, criminalization of behaviors that stem from poverty, and unfair targeting
of poor neighborhoods: the criminal justice system targets and harasses poor and homeless people. The working class
and the poor (people working and out of work) are stigmatized, scapegoated, and mistreated by the criminal justice
system. Those unable to afford an attorney often find themselves represented by underresourced, inadequate and
irresponsible public defenders, and are unable to adequately defend themselves in court. In addition, the poor may
suffer further when public assistance is cut off because of a convicted spouse or family member.
In 1991, more than half of all state prisoners reported an annual income of less than $10,000 prior to their arrest.1
• While roughly 80% of all U.S. men of working age are employed full-time, only 55% of state prison inmates
were working full-time at the time of their arrest.2
• Only 33% of prisoners nationwide have completed high school, while in the general population 85% of all men
20 to 29 years old have a high school diploma.3

• The United States spend $167 billion dollars on policing, corrections, judicial and legal services in 20014
only $29.7 Billion on Temporary Aid to Needy Families (TANF)

The homeless are denied access to public space. More and more public parks are refusing entry to individuals
without children; public money is used to place bars in the middle of park benches to stop people from sleeping
on them, and homeless people are being banned completely from certain neighborhoods in cities like Athens,
Georgia; Cincinnati, Ohio; and Portland, Oregon.6
• The homeless are denied access to private space. Local businesses often band to form “Business Improvement
Districts”, organizations created in order to protect the interests of local businesses. The interests of these
“Business Improvement Districts” are generally related to the eradication of the homeless presence in their area
and often hire private security guards to restrict access to areas of the community based on economic profiling.