The criminalization of poverty

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


This chapter examines the criminalization of poverty and how the criminal justice system is influenced by issues of race and gender. The high rate of incarceration among African American people both parallels and intersects with the disproportionately high rate of poverty. Small fines, fees, and administrative charges have been used since the founding of the United States (U.S.) to perpetuate such poverty, thereby creating an intergenerational feature rooted in the history of this country’s legal system. To wit, the smallest of fees and fines can become cumulative over time and create substantial financial burdens that increase the likelihood of prison time for minor infractions of the law, loss of a vehicle used to maintain employment, and denial of access to federal and state programs ranging from federally supported education loans to access to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistant Program. Moreover, the increasing trend toward work requirements attached to assistance programs effectively stunts individuals’ and families’ opportunity for upward social mobility, exacerbating social stratification. Social workers should advance reformation efforts using a structuralist approach.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationSocial Work, Criminal Justice, and the Death Penalty
PublisherOxford University Press
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9780190937232
StatePublished - Jan 1 2021


  • Criminalization
  • Means tested
  • Poverty
  • Social insurance
  • Social stratification

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • General Social Sciences


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