The criminal justice system isn’t broken. It, regrettably, works exactly as it is intended. This is why the solution is to break the system, not fix it. You see, fixing it means it will continue to do what it is intended to do: marginalize and destroy Black and First Nations communities, create and increase poverty, destroy health, assault gay, queer and trans lives, target immigrants, and frankly, make a profit to stakeholders whose interest are not community wellness.
Many wonderful reforms are in process to improve conditions in prisons and jails, and they should continue. The ultimate end, however, is creating a society where crime is less of a necessity, by looking at reforms outside of the justice system and inside society at large.
FEDERAL JOB GUARANTEE
Throughout the United States, varying factors result in joblessness. When an individual is jobless in a capitalistic society, they are forced to miss out on vital needs — shelter, clothing, food, medical access, among others. Poverty is pervasive and it is discriminatory. Any individual can be subjected to poverty. However, racial disparities in the country result in Black Americans being subjected to poverty at alarming rates. According to the Economic Policy Institute, 45.8% of young Black children (under 6) live in poverty versus the 14.5% of white children. This is an extreme income disparity. Black Americans have the highest poverty rate at 27.4% versus Latinx Americans at 26.6% and white Americans at 9.9%. 15.1% of Americans overall (approx over 46 mil) suffer from poverty as of 2010. These figures are alarming and catastrophic.
Additionally, looking into working class Americans, we see that Americans who are earning poverty-level wages are disproportionately Black or Latinx women between the ages of 18 and 25. Economic Policy Institute states that income inequality is the greatest cause of higher poverty rates, accounting for 5.5% of all income inequality versus the 1.4% increase of poverty due to single-parent homes headed by single mothers (a common “blame” for poverty).
Income inequality will need to be addressed in many ways: Reparations for Black Americans due to redlining, slavery, Jim Crow and discrimination, living wages tied to inflation, adequate public transportation, adequate nutrition and medical access, among others. The first point to address it, however, is the promise of a paycheck to every American who is able to work. A federal job guarantee can do just that. Additionally, a federal job guarantee can work to fight crime. We’ll discuss this now.
According to The Job Guarantee: Toward True Full Employment , a full federal employment guarantee comes with many benefits, including a disruption in mental health problems, drug addiction and additionally crime. The authors understand that the private sector will never produce enough jobs and certainly not adequate employment for the needs of all Americans. With increased productivity among the working class, a decrease in crime is an added benefit.
Anecdote: “If idle hands are the devil’s handy work, perhaps gainfully employed hands have less time (or reason) to participate in crime.”
A 2015 article by The Atlantic agrees with this point. By proposing the question, how could “criminals” change their way? The Atlantic begs the solution: employ them. Within the article titled Can Jobs Deter Crime?, a specific study by Christopher Blattman (Columbia University) and Jeannie Annan (International Rescue Committee) turned their focus to a specialized program in Liberia. The study suggests that economic crimes — such as theft — can be greatly minimized, if not altogether eliminated, through economic training programs and job guarantees. Blattman and Annan focused on former soldiers of the civil war, many of whom turned to theft and joining violent campaigns after the war. These violent campaigns included mercenary work. To combat this, a non-profit organization known as Action on Armed Violence offered these former soldiers an opportunity to join a program that taught important skills: agriculture and literacy among them. Additionally, participants were given start-up supplies in the value of $125.00 so they may begin tending to livestock and crops. This empowered these individuals to gain work in a productive way through legal means, rather than through theft and violence. While the study does not show an immediate end to all crime, after 14 months, the participants involvement in crime had gone down by at least 20%. As the study itself cites, those at risk of limited or poor job opportunities were more likely to be at-risk for being recruited into violent campaigns and criminal activity than those with more advanced opportunities.
Looking back at The Job Guarantee: Toward True Full Employment, society has overall collective benefits with a job guarantee. With more individuals earning a paycheck, more money is floated back into the economy. Additionally, more money is paid into city, state and federal tax revenue. As such, there is more money available for social programs, which could include vocational training, education, restorative justice programs and more. Also to take into account, less money would be needed to maintain the unemployment compensation program and as such would reduce certain bureaucracy and allow such monies to be allocated to other needs.
The text also takes note of the psychological consequences of unemployment. Cited in the text is a study by Price et al (1992) which states those who suffer from unemployment are more likely to face lower self-worth than their gainfully employed peers. Calvo-Armengol’s study later found that extended periods of unemployment can have a severe impact on one’s socialization skills, which can make searching for work in the job market more difficult and thus create a trap of unemployment. This condition is so pervasive that the study finds your odds of finding employment after just one week of unemployment is 30% but goes down to 8% after eight weeks and then to 2% after one year. As such, chronic unemployment has effects on one’s social and financial standings but also upon their ability to re-enter the job market.
A 2003 study by Matthew Melick titled The Relationship between Crime and Unemployment examines some factors related to the unemployed and motor vehicle theft. His study points to the fact that as economic conditions deteriorate, the motivation for economic related crimes increase. Managing crime at the governmental level is costing a combined $146 billion (or $521 per citizen) when evaluated at the local, state and federal levels, according to a 1999 United States Department of Justice study. Despite these costs, Melick finds the government’s approach does little to actually curb crime in real time.
A 2001 study by Stephen Raphael and Rudolf Winter-Ebmer titled Identifying the Effect of Unemployment on Crime studied the relationship between crime and the unemployment rate as calculated by the FBI from 1993 to 1998. In this analysis, victimization of both property and violent crimes fell 30% during this time span. At the same time, the federal unemployment rate went from 7.5% to 4.5%, a thirty year low.
It is also important to note that people living at or below the poverty rate are also more likely to become victims of crime than those who are not. A study titled Correlation Between Crime Rate and Poverty found that those at or below the poverty rate were at least double at risk to become a victim of crime. The study finds this true regardless of race (however, as referenced earlier, Black Americans are at a higher poverty risk — and as such, based on this study, at a higher risk of being a victim of a crime).
In Family Income, Neighborhood Poverty and Crime by Sara Heller, Brian Jacob and Jens Ludwig it is noted that the social costs of our mass incarceration system would be severely reduced if such expenses were instead placed into more relevant social programs (which could include federal job guarantee.)
Aristotle: “Poverty is the parent of crime.”
Analyzing each of these studies show us common themes. Unemployment has severe economic and social consequences for society. People suffering from unemployment are at-risk of committing crimes out of necessity, in order to secure money to pay bills, for food or for child care. Additionally, one’s social standing in society diminishes each week they go unemployed, causing psychological detriment to those impacted, which can lead to crime. Poverty also creates an open-door to victimization, as those who are impacted by poverty have less means of support to protect themselves from crime. By eliminating all of these factors, we could begin to see a decline in crime and extreme economic benefits for all.
Before the mid-1970s, economic growth in the United States was associated with falling poverty rates. If that…