The gap between the rich and the poor in the United States has long been present. In their book, The Rich get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, Jeffrey Reiman and Paul Leighton examine the criminal justice system in the United States. The two explore the biasness of the system arguing that it oppresses the poor. As I read the first chapters of this book, I cannot help, but reflect on the gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. Why is this gap widening? What is its relationship to the rising trend of crime in the U.S.? Is the U.S. criminal justice system biased?
The inequality gap between the rich and the poor in the U.S. is not new. The gap existed even in the early 20th century. However, the Reaganomics of the 1980s contributed to widening this gap. As Reiman and Leighton put it, Reagan’s policy only ended up “cutting services to the poor while reducing taxes to the wealthy” (pp.28). Since this time, the income inequality gap has been widening and the poor resort to crime as a means to an end.
Besides, there have been fluctuations in unemployment rates over the past decades. Unemployment rates among the poor in society are much worse than the national average (pp. 29). Reiman and Leighton assert that black unemployment rates are much higher than white unemployment rates explaining why more blacks are involved in criminal activities than whites (pp.29).
Apart from the apparent income inequality gap, the United States social structure has also played a role in increasing the crime rates. Allow me to draw your attention to Rawl’s Theory of Justice. Rawl presents two societies: “welfare state capitalism” and a “property-owning democracy.” Reiman and Leighton’s description of U.S. social structure borrows from Rawl’s work. Reiman and Leighton maintain that class inequalities in welfare-state capitalism are limited by the provision of fundamental needs to the poor in society. This over dependant on social welfare may be discouraging, as many would feel left out in public political culture (pp. 30).
The U.S. social system is similar to welfare-state capitalism. Millions of citizens depend on social welfare, which barely takes care of their necessities. It is no wonder the crime rates are on the rise since people have to find other survival means.
Nevertheless, even with the rising crime rates, have our policies contributed to controlling crime? For instance, gun-related crimes have been on the rise since the late 20th century. However, U.S. presidents have done very little to control the sale of handguns (pp. 33). The law on weapon-related crime is simply not effective and only targets the poor (pp.34). Even the definition of crime makes it a poor man’s act, while we know that the rich are perpetrators of massive white-collar crimes.
The criminal justice system perceives crime as “a threat from the poor” (pp. 5). The criminal justice system, therefore, only strives to contain crime, but not to wipe it out (pp. 5). While there is a massive investment in the criminal justice system mainly through the building of more prisons, nothing is being done to address the social causes of crime (Reiman and Leighton, pp. 3). Poor criminals continue filling our prisons and courts (pp. 3).
Generally, the criminal justice system in the U.S. needs a reevaluation. We cannot hide from the fact that poverty is the main cause of crime. Unless we redesign the system to address the social causes of crime, the poor will continue engaging in crime while the rich become richer. Locking up criminals in prisons may contribute towards lowering crime rates, but only to a small extent (pp. 2). The criminal justice system should adopt measures that are more appropriate to address the root causes of crime.