Essay title: The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison
Jeffrey Reiman, author of The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, first published his book in 1979; it is now in its sixth edition, and he has continued to revise it as he keeps up on criminal justice statistics and other trends in the system.
Reiman originally wrote his book after teaching for seven years at the School of Justice (formerly the Center for the Administration of Justice), which is a multidisciplinary, criminal justice education program at American University in Washington, D.C. He drew heavily from what he had learned from his colleagues at that university. Reiman is the William Fraser McDowell Professor of Philosophy at American University, where he has taught since 1970. He has written numerous books on political philosophy, criminology, and sociology. Reiman states his thesis in the Introduction. He claims that the goal of the American criminal justice system is not to eliminate crimeâ€”or even to achieve justiceâ€”but to project to the people an image of the idea that the threat of crime eminates from the poor.
The system must "maintain" a large population of poor criminals, and to this end, it must not reduce or eliminate the crimes that poor people commit. When crime declines, it is not because of our criminal justice polices, but in spite of them. In testing this idea, Reiman had his students construct a correctional system that would maintain a stable and visible group of criminals, rather than eliminating or reducing crime, and they suggested the following: enact laws against drug abuse, prostitution, and gambling; give police, prosecutors, and judges broad discretion in deciding who gets arrested, charged, and sentenced to prison; make the prison experience demeaning; do not train prisoners for jobs after release; deprive offenders of certain rights for the rest of their lives. The system that emerges is what we have today. In the chapter, "Crime Control in America," Reiman suggests that the system has been designed to fail. Imprisoning drug offenders, for instance, does nothing to reduce the number of drug offenders in society because they are immediately replaced.
The decline in violent crime is more attributable to demographic changes than to enforcement efforts. Most of the decline in crime results from forces beyond the control of the criminal justice systems. Reiman also feels that we could reduce crime if we wanted to do so, and that our excuses are not really answers to the problem, but merely excuses to explain why the system fails. We know the causes of crimeâ€”poverty, prison, and drugsâ€”yet we do nothing to change how these things operate, such as banning guns and decriminalizing drugs. In the chapter, "A Crime by Any Other Name . .
. ," Reiman considers how language is used to identify some actions, and he argues that such things as workplace-related deaths that could be prevented should be considered crimes, as well. As far as the criminal justice system is concerned, the face of crime is young, male, poor, and black.
Reiman believes that the criminal justice system helps create this reality, projecting a particular image of crime and hiding the larger reality of social injustice and even white-collar crime. They identify crime as a direct, personal assault and ignore many other damages caused by carelessness and greed of a different order. Reiman details threats from the workplace, the health care system, the use of chemicals by various companies, and poverty itself, none of which are considered crimes.
Reiman feels that the criminal justice system distorts the image of what truly threatens society. In the chapter, ". . . And the Poor Get Prison," Reiman points out what many have notedâ€”that the offender in prison is most likely someone from one of the lowest social and economic groups in the nation.
The poor are more likely to be arrested for a particular crime, while wealthier people are merely warned. Reiman uses evidence of the differential treatment of blacks for several reasons: 1) blacks are disproportionately poor; 2) the factors that are most likely to keep an offender out of prison do not apply to poor blacks; 3) blacks and whites in prison come from the same general socio-economic status; 4) race adds to the effects of economic condition; and 5) the economic powers in America could end or reduce racist bias in the criminal justice system if they wanted to do so. Reiman believes.