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PaulsJusticePage > Reiman, The Rich Get Richer > Ch 3 Summary     Ch 3 Exercises>     [Buy book ~ eBook]

Ch 3: ... And the Poor Get Prison

The Rich Get Richer examines the processes by which our prisons and jails come to be predominately occupied by those from the lowest social and economic classes.  Having argued in Ch 2 that the criminal law fails to prohibit many serious harms done by the powerful, we now argue that the Criminal Justice System 'weeds out the wealthy' and functions in such a way that the poor are 1.) more likely to be arrested 2.) more likely to be charged 3.) more likely to be convicted and 4.) more likely to be sentenced to longer prison sentences than members of middle and upper classes.

The Rich Get Richer discusses the characteristics of inmates, including education level, income and education level.  In addition, we provide a comparison of average sentencing for crimes of the poor and crimes of the affluent, demonstrating sentencing disparities. Much of the data is based on racial disparities, can be used as a proxy for social class because African Americans are disproportionately poor. To be clear, "it is not our view that the poor are all innocent victims persecuted by the evil rich," but that "the poor are arrested and punished by the criminal justice system much more frequently than their contribution to the crime problem would warrant."  

See also 


Internet Resources

Arrest and Charging

This section demonstrates that the weeding out of the wealthy begins at the arrest.  The chapter cites government documents as well as numerous studies that address the bias evident in official records and self-reports.  While both blacks and whites admit to similar amounts and types of crimes, it is the poor who are most likely to be arrested and have a criminal record.  One argument is that at the very beginning of the road to prison, police mainly investigate and arrest those who hold the least political clout or who are least likely to draw attention to police practices - those in the lowest social and economic classes.

Further, this chapter demonstrates that the kinds of crime that poor people donít have the opportunity to commit are the crimes that the criminal justice system does not treat as criminal, but civil offences, making the middle and upper classes less likely to be arrested, charged or convicted.  calculate the cost of white collar crime at $486 billion and argue that white-collar crime 1.) is much more costly than street crimes 2.) is widespread 3.) white-collar criminals are  seldom arrested and charged 4.) when they are prosecuted and convicted, sentences are light.

Sex, Drugs, and Delinquency in Urban and Suburban Public Schools, by Center for Civic Education, Manhattan Institute. The results indicate students at urban and suburban schools are delinquent are very similar rates. Click on the 'delinquency' section or click here to go directly to the tables, which have more detail than the summary. The report is based on data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, sponsored by the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development and other federal agencies.

What's your hypothetical criminal record? [Have you ever sat down and thought out what your hypothetical criminal record would be if all the crimes you committed in your life would have been reported to the police and prosecuted?]

American Civil Liberties Union: Racial Profiling & Driving While Black Info

Why Driving While Black Matters (Race, Racism & the Law)

Racial Profiling Data Collection Resource Center (Northeastern University) - data, analysis, law review articles, etc

The Bush cocaine controversy should encourage an overdue debate on why drug abuse among the rich is a "disease" while among the poor it is a "crime."

Class will tell (


The question of guilt or innocence is significantly affected by a personís ability to secure the funds necessary to be free on bail and obtain legal counsel other than a public defender. Both require access to money, so it is not surprising that the poor are more likely to be convicted.  cite studies that conclude that all other things being equal, unemployed persons are 3 times more likely to be incarcerated before trial than those who are employed and those who do not make bail are more likely to be convicted. This chapter also points out the distinct advantages to the legal services money can buy verses the disadvantages to court appointed legal counsel, including - and especially - with death penalty cases. 

U.K's Corporate Manslaughter Statute ( column)

NYPD's Secret Hip-Hop Dossier: Cops covertly monitor rappers like P Diddy, 50 Cent, Jay-Z (Smoking


This section discusses the point that the most severe sentences are handed out to lower class defendants while the better class of crook avoids prison or receives a lighter sentence.  Several studies on racial disparity in sentencing are cited, including how the death sentence is handed down more frequently in cases involving white defendants than black ones. This chapter explores the impact of 'reforms' like mandatory minimums, sentencing guidelines and Three Strikes that are often related to the drug war, and have disproportionately impacted minority communities.

We describe examples of far-reaching white collar crime like the Savings & Loan Scandal that cost the public billions of dollars yet those executives convicted receive less jail time than poor people convicted of common property crimes, such as shop lifting. Major violations of trust and power, like those involved in Watergate and corporate crime, are rarely the subject of 'get tough' laws and are lightly punished. 

Truth in Justice: miscarriages of justice & wrongful convictions

Human Rights Watch: Decades of Disparity: Drug Arrests and Race in the U.S.

Racism, Prisons & the Future of Black America

In conclusion, there is a triple bias against the poor:
  • "Economic and class bias among harmful acts as to which ones get labeled crimes and which are treated as regulatory matters" (Ch 2)
  • "Economic bias among crimes" (this chapter) - "the crimes that poor people are likely to commit carry harsher sentences than the 'crimes in the suites' committed by well- to do people"
  • "Among defendants convicted of the same crimes the poor receive less probation and more years of confinement than well- of defendants"
The key players in Watergate & where they are 25 years later

Yahoo: Social Class and Stratification

Class, Race, Gender & Crime

A Tale of Two Criminals grew out of several invited lectures I gave, including a Distinguished Visiting Faculty Lecture at Eastern Kentucky University that they recently posted on YouTube. (6 parts, approx 60 minutes)

If the embedded player doesn't work, here's the link for the playlist (six parts of about 10 minutes each). And just to make sure it's accessible - Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 and Part 6.


Paul's Blog entry about embedded video, with comments on current subprime financial issues


Many thanks to Carole Garrison and EKU multimedia for making this happen.

White Collar Crime - excellent overview of the types of activities, victims, perpetrators and SEC - Via Jay P. Hamilton, Dept of Economics, John Jay. 

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