Does Poverty Go Hand In and With Criminal Activity?


This is a chart showing trends in the expendit...

This is a chart showing trends in the expenditures on crime by criminal justice function from 1982-2001. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

It’s often interesting to hear people talk about the urgent need to reduce inequality as a means of tackling crime in society. The nexus between inequality and the incidence of crime is a subject that has been under scrutiny by those who engage in the study of sociological theories of crime. This is largely due to the fact that there is a widely held belief fuelled by prejudice that ” lower-class people and people living in lower-class areas, have higher official crime rates than other groups”.

Numerous studies have been carried out by social scientists that point to the idea that social deprivation fosters an environment that encourages individuals to become discontent and unleash themselves on those within their community. There is the argument that the feeling of being disadvantaged and unfairly treated leads to marginalised people in society to “seek compensation and satisfaction by all means, including committing crimes against both poor and rich”.

In a research paper titled “The Distribution of public Services: An Exploration of Local Government Preferences (1997) Jere Behrman and Steven Craig, make the assertion that crime may be more prevalent in poor communities because the distribution of police services by the state favours rich neighbourhoods. In short crime is associated with people of a certain class living in dangerous deprived areas. There is also the argument that “an increase in income inequality has a significant and robust effect of raising crime rate. GDP growth rate has a significant crime-reducing impact”.

A good number of criminologists argue that crime can not be solely attributed to economic hardship alone. They further argue that wealthy offenders particularly those linked to white collar crimes are more likely to buy their way out of the criminal justice system through fines and other alternatives to prosecution and imprisonment .

The recent events in the corporate world which involved the PPI scandal (Barclays Bank) and Libor as well as other “crimes of the middle classes such as tax evasion, bank fraud and insurance fraud” most of which were revealed during the recent financial crisis, show how there are disparities between how corporate crime and other crimes associated with people from a lower social class are handled.

Studies by criminologists have shown that the social construction of criminal law categories sheds some light as to why certain social groups are over represented in the statistics for offending. The over representation of low income groups in the criminal justice system  has been largely attributed to the fact that more money is spent on dealing with crimes of the powerless. Furthermore, these crimes are pursued by prosecuting agencies whereas white collar crime for the most part is dealt with by regulatory bodies whose power against corporate malpractice is administrative. The fact that corporations are legal persons makes it even more difficult if not impossible to hold individuals in these corporations accountable.

The bias in law enforcement procedures needs to be addressed in order remove the entrenched prejudice regarding poverty and criminal behaviour. Institutional and structural changes are desperately needed to close the gap that exists in the criminal justice system.



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