Category Archives: Criminalization of Poverty

New Article: “Unequal Assistance of Counsel”

New Article: Peter A. Joy, Unequal Assistance of Counsel, Kansas J. L. & Pub. Pol’y 2015.  Abstract below:

There is now, and has always been, a double standard when it comes to the criminal justice system in the United States. The system is stacked against you if you are a person of color or are poor, and is doubly unjust if you are both a person of color and poor. The potential counterweight to such a system, a lawyer by one’s side, is unequal as well. In reality, the right to counsel is a right to the unequal assistance of counsel in the United States. 

The unequal treatment based on the color of one’s skin is reflected by the racial disparity throughout the criminal justice system in which minority racial groups are involved in the criminal justice system as suspects and defendants at rates greater than their proportion of the general population. This is illustrated by the “driving while black” phenomenon in which law enforcement officers initiate traffic stops against persons of color and subject them to searches at a higher rate than whites, even though law enforcement is more likely to find contraband on white drivers than persons of color.

The Sixth Amendment promises the effective assistance of counsel to every person accused of a crime where incarceration is a possible punishment. This guarantee suggests that everyone, rich and poor, is equal before the law. But the reality of the criminal justice system is much different for the majority of those charged with crimes. If one does not have the financial means to hire effective counsel, or is poor and not lucky enough to have a well-funded, effective public defender or appointed counsel, the defendant’s right to counsel is unequal. This disparity is driven largely by the wealth of the accused and falls most harshly on people of color, who are twice as likely as whites to live in poverty and are accused of crimes at rates much higher than their proportion of the population. As a result, class and race are largely determinative of the lawyer, and often the amount of justice one receives.

This article explores how unequal assistance of counsel contributes to unequal justice. The article begins with a brief overview of racial disparities in the ways laws are enforced. The initial step in the criminal justice system, whether the police stop someone, can lead to arrest, charges, and the need for a lawyer. Next, it analyzes the systemic barriers to effective assistance of counsel at the state level, which is driven largely by excessive caseloads and an ineffective assistance of counsel standard that tolerates bad lawyering. It concludes with strategies for achieving more effective assistance of counsel, which emphasize the ethical imperative to provide meaningful assistance of counsel, the importance of data collection by public defender systems, and systemic litigation that positions assistance of counsel claims prior to trials.

Wash Post Editorial: Cruel and unusual [Criminalization of homelessness] – The Washington Post

Cruel and unusual – The Washington Post.

New Article: “The New American Debtors’ Prisons”

New Article: Christopher D. Hampson, The New American Debtors’ Prisons, SSRN 2015.  Abstract below:

Debtors’ prisons are back, in the form of imprisonment for nonpayment of criminal fines, fees, and costs. While the new debtors’ prisons are not historically or doctrinally continuous with the old, recent developments in criminal law suggest that some parts of them offend the same functional and moral principles that compelled the abolition of the old debtors’ prisons. Legal actors may therefore plausibly interpret the constitutional and statutory texts that abolished the old debtors’ prisons to constitute checks on the new — or a new abolitionist movement might deploy new constitutional texts. While the criminal law literature is starting to grapple with the question of debtors’ prisons, this piece engages with the metaphor head-on and asks how the old ban on debtors’ prisons should be reinterpreted for a new era of mass incarceration.

News Coverage: The Bail Trap – The New York Times

The Bail Trap – The New York Times.

News Coverage: How mass incarceration creates ‘million dollar blocks’ in poor neighborhoods – The Washington Post

How mass incarceration creates ‘million dollar blocks’ in poor neighborhoods – The Washington Post.

New Article: “Setting the Stage for Ferguson: Housing Discrimination and Segregation in St. Louis”

New Article: Rigel Christine Oliveri, Setting the Stage for Ferguson: Housing Discrimination and Segregation in St. Louis, Missouri L. Rev. forthcoming.  SSRN 2015.  Abstract below:

The events of fall 2014 in Ferguson, MO (the shooting death of Michael Brown by a white police officer and the subsequent protests and riots), have been examined from many angles – the policing of minority communities, the militarized police response to peaceful protests, the poor schools and job prospects for young people like Mr. Brown, etc… This paper adds another factor to the analysis: housing discrimination.

St. Louis is one of the most segregated places in the country and this is not an accident. The history of St. Louis is replete with discriminatory housing laws, policies, and practices. While these were common throughout the United States, they were particularly egregious, widespread, and pervasive in industrial mid-western cities like St. Louis. St. Louis, in fact, was where three of fair housing law’s most foundational fair housing cases emerged from: Shelly v. Kraemer, which held that racially restrictive covenants could not be enforced by courts; Jones v. Mayer, which held that private acts of race discrimination in housing were prohibited by the Civil Rights Act; and United States v. City of Black Jack, which recognized the use of disparate impact theory in fair housing cases. When we look closely at these cases – not just the legal principles that they established but the physical, racial geography of the homes, neighborhoods, and cities that were contested – we can see how they reflected the racist forces that shaped the reality of modern metropolitan St. Louis.

This paper traces the history of housing discrimination in the St. Louis metro area using these cases as a framework, concluding with a discussion of how these historical forces resonate in contemporary Ferguson. The paper concludes with suggestions for reforms that might help undo what a century’s worth of officially sanctioned discrimination and segregation have wrought.

New Article: “Punishing the Poorest: How the Criminalization of Homelessness Perpetuates Poverty in San Francisco”

New Article: Chris Herring & Dilara Yarbrough, Punishing the Poorest: How the Criminalization of Homelessness Perpetuates Poverty in San Francisco, SSRN June 2015.  Abstract below:

This report details the effects of criminalization on the homeless residents of San Francisco. Since 1981, San Francisco has passed more local measures to criminalize sleeping, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces than any other city in the state of California. During this same period, the United States has experienced the greatest expansion of its jail and prison system under any democracy in history. This expansion has primarily affected the poorest members of this society. This report documents and analyzes the impacts of the rising tide of anti-homeless laws in our era of mass incarceration on those experiencing homelessness in San Francisco.

This portrait of the impact of criminalization on homelessness in San Francisco is based on a citywide survey of 351 homeless individuals and 43 in-depth interviews carried out by volunteers at the Coalition on Homelessness and supervised by researchers at the UC Berkeley Center on Human Rights. It also analyzes data on policy, citations, and arrests received from the San Francisco Police Department, the Sheriff ’s Office, the Human Services Agency, and the Recreation and Park Department. The report provides an in-depth analysis of each step in the criminalization of homelessness — from interactions with law enforcement, to the issuance and processing of citations, to incarceration and release. The study makes evident how criminalization not only fails to reduce homelessness in public space, but also perpetuates homelessness, racial and gender inequality, and poverty even once one has exited homelessness.

The aim of this study is to provide sound empirical data on the impacts of the criminalization of homelessness in San Francisco, while also giving voice to the experiences of those whose housing status results in their regularly being processed through the city’s criminal justice system. Our hope is that these findings will inform public discussions and provide the basis for thoughtful policy approaches to these issues.

New Article: “Gideon’s Servants and the Criminalization of Poverty”

New Article: Alexandra Natapoff, Gideon’s Servants and the Criminalization of Poverty, 12 Ohio State Journal of Criminal Law, Vol. 445 (2015).  Abstract below:

In ways that slip beneath the doctrinal radar, public defenders often behave like social workers. They find drug treatment and jobs for their clients, and intervene with landlords and employers. Conversely — and ironically — many civil welfare service providers act increasingly like law enforcement officials. Teachers call the police on their students, while welfare case workers often refer their clients for prosecution. This role-switching — by criminal lawyers and civil servants alike — is a function of the tight connection between criminalization and poverty: poor people tend to get swept up in the criminal system and such encounters tend to make people poor. This nexus is particularly powerful in the world of minor offenses and urban policing in which crime, unemployment, racial segregation, and lack of social infrastructure swirl around in one large, nearly inextricable mass. As a result, criminal justice actors are heavily preoccupied with defendants’ social welfare even as the welfare state routinely treats its clients as presumptive criminals. These hydraulic forces affect every official actor — from police officers to prosecutors to emergency room nurses and public school teachers. But public defenders play a special role. Their multi-faceted service commitments to both criminal and welfarist outcomes reveal deep features of the criminal system itself and its conflicted governance relationship to its most vulnerable constituents.

News Coverage: “Jailed for Being Broke”

News Coverage: Matt Taibbi, “Jailed for Being Broke,” Rolling Stone Mag., June 23, 2015.

New Report: “The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty”

IPS-The-Poor-Get-Prison-Cover-309x400New Report: Karen Dolan & Jodi L. Carr, The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty (Inst. for Pol’y Stud. 2015).