Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America

Not a Crime to Be Poor: The Criminalization of Poverty in America

by Peter Edelman


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Winner of a special Robert F. Kennedy Book Award, the book that Evicted author Matthew Desmond calls “a powerful investigation into the ways the United States has addressed poverty. . . . lucid and troubling”

In one of the richest countries on Earth it has effectively become a crime to be poor. For example, in Ferguson, Missouri, the U.S. Department of Justice didn’t just expose racially biased policing; it also exposed exorbitant fines and fees for minor crimes that mainly hit the city’s poor, African American population, resulting in jail by the thousands. As Peter Edelman explains in Not a Crime to Be Poor , in fact Ferguson is everywhere: the debtors’ prisons of the twenty-first century. The anti-tax revolution that began with the Reagan era led state and local governments, starved for revenues, to squeeze ordinary people, collect fines and fees to the tune of 10 million people who now owe $50 billion.

Nor is the criminalization of poverty confined to money. Schoolchildren are sent to court for playground skirmishes that previously sent them to the principal’s office. Women are evicted from their homes for calling the police too often to ask for protection from domestic violence. The homeless are arrested for sleeping in the park or urinating in public.

A former aide to Robert F. Kennedy and senior official in the Clinton administration, Peter Edelman has devoted his life to understanding the causes of poverty. As Harvard Law professor Randall Kennedy has said, “No one has been more committed to struggles against impoverishment and its cruel consequences than Peter Edelman. ” And former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert writes, “If there is one essential book on the great tragedy of poverty and inequality in America, this is it.”

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781620975480
Publisher: New Press, The
Publication date: 07/02/2019
Edition description: Reprint
Pages: 320
Sales rank: 109,222
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.30(h) x 0.90(d)

About the Author

Peter Edelman is the Carmack Waterhouse Professor of Law and Public Policy and the faculty director of the Center on Poverty and Inequality at Georgetown University Law Center. He is the author of So Rich, So Poor: Why It’s So Hard to End Poverty in America (The New Press). A top advisor to Senator Robert F. Kennedy from 1964 to 1968, he went on to fill various roles in President Bill Clinton’s administration, from which he famously resigned in protest after Clinton signed the 1996 welfare reform legislation. He lives in Washington, DC.

Table of Contents

Introduction xi

Part 1 The Criminalization of Poverty

1 Ferguson Is Everywhere: Twenty-First-Century Debtors' Prisons 3

2 Fighting Back: The Advocates and Their Work 21

3 Money Bail 45

4 The Criminalization of Mental Illness 63

5 Child Support: Criminalizing Poor Fathers 83

6 Criminalizing Public Benefits 91

7 Poverty, Race, and Discipline in Schools: Go Directly to Jail 117

8 Crime-Free Housing Ordinances and the Criminalization of Homelessness 135

Part 2 Ending Poverty

9 Taking Criminal Justice Reform Seriously 159

10 Turning the Coin Over: Ending Poverty as We Know It 183

Aftenwrd 251

Acknowledgments 261

Notes 265

Index 289

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