Field of Science

The Criminalization of Poverty

Barbara Ehrenreich had an excellent article in yesterday's New York Times on the many ways that being poor can land you in trouble with the law. One striking example:

In just the past few months, a growing number of cities have taken to ticketing and sometimes handcuffing teenagers found on the streets during school hours.

In Los Angeles, the fine for truancy is $250; in Dallas, it can be as much as $500 — crushing amounts for people living near the poverty level. According to the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group, 12,000 students were ticketed for truancy in 2008.

Why does the Bus Riders Union care? Because it estimates that 80 percent of the “truants,” especially those who are black or Latino, are merely late for school, thanks to the way that over-filled buses whiz by them without stopping. I met people in Los Angeles who told me they keep their children home if there’s the slightest chance of their being late. It’s an ingenious anti-truancy policy that discourages parents from sending their youngsters to school.

The column was based on a report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which finds that the number of ordinances passed and tickets issued for crimes related to poverty has grown since 2006.

Hey, no one likes poverty, right? Let's pass a law!


  1. I shared a bit of this with my class today. Yikes! :)

  2. Wow, really? I'm glad you found it useful!

    I'm TAing MA/CS 109 this year, taught by profs. Hall, Kolaczyk, Reyzin, and Bestavos (sp?). It's basically a conceptual introduction to the big ideas of math, CS, and stats. Very cool stuff!


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