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PaulsJusticePage > Reiman, The Rich Get Richer > Ch 4 Summary     Ch 4 Exercises>    [Buy book ~ eBook]

Ch 4: To the Vanquished Belong the Spoils: Who Is Winning the Losing War Against Crime? 

To determine how a criminal justice system that neither protects society nor achieves justice is still functioning, Reiman examines who is benefiting from the failure.  While pointing out that the wealthy are the beneficiaries of the current system, Reiman is not arguing that this is conspiracy; it's a result of historical inertia.  The Pyrrhic defeat theory, used to explain the persistence of failing criminal justice policy, suggests that those who have power to change the system benefit from the way it operates: they can go on committing harms and accumulating wealth without punishment, while the country remains focused on street crime and poor minority criminals. 

Reiman discusses the ideology, or message that our criminal justice system conveys that individual criminals bear full responsibility, while inequality and other social conditions that contribute to crime are rendered invisible in the discussions. Reiman also addresses the role of ideology in creating and maintaining this continued failure. 


Internet Resources

The poverty of criminals and the crime of poverty

In this section Reiman explains that the criminal justice system diverts attention and critical analysis from itself by focusing on individuals as criminals. This focus conveys the message that our institutions are politically neutral, and they remain immune from critical examination. Reiman argues that focusing on individual wrongdoers allows us to address only half of the problem of justice: whether the individual has fulfilled their obligation to society, but not whether society has fulfilled its obligation to the society.

Reiman asserts that goals of success are quite the same for individuals, however the means by which to achieve these goals are quite different. To put it simply, few poor people have access to the mechanisms known to produce financial success. Therefore they seek illegitimate means to achieve those legitimate goals.

Researching private prisons (the rich get richer because the poor get prison)

The Bonus of bias

The image conveyed is that the typical criminal is poor and that if people are poor it is their fault, not the fault of our system; the individual is in need of reform, not any of our social institutions. Perceiving the threat to be from the poor -- not the vast quantity of corporate crime -- Middle America calls for a war on (street) crime, leading to the "continued dismal failure of class based politics in America" (p 171). In order for the benefits of bias to continue, the CJ system must also fail to reduce crime and instead help create a visible, continued level of street crime. As discussed in Chapter 1, the tough on crime policies (more police, more punishment) do not get at the source of the problem, and yet society goes for more of the same. 

The video on the right shows distributions of wealth - how we believe it should be, what we believe the reality is and the facts. We very much underestimate inequality.

'Social adversity' & the tensions between inequality and justice

Ideology & how it is maintained

Reiman points out that the laws of the state or nation are made to serve the interests of the powerful and not society as a whole. He demonstrates that those who both make and interpret the laws are from the upper class with strong connections to business. Recent events and history demonstrate how the criminal justice system is used to protect the interests of the powerful against the lower class and political dissenters. Ideology is not just deliberate deception, but includes a variety of ways the carnival mirror (Chapter 2) appears to be reflecting a real image rather than a distorted image (where street crime is magnified and corporate crime is diminished). 

Laws shape the way people think about the world and naturalize the current arrangements. Also, the powerful have a prevailing say in what is heard and said about society because they control mass media outlets. [see also how corporate crime isn't covered on TV news] The images relayed by the mass media reinforce the message of dangerous poor people committing street crime because of individual pathology. The vast disparities in income and wealth can only be maintained when inequality is seen as justified

"For the vast majority, the many millions struggling hard to satisfy basic needs, to acquiesce to the vast wealth of a small minority, it is necessary that the majority come to believe that these disparities are justified, that the present order is the best that human beings can accomplish, and that they are not being exploited by the have-plenties"


The Rich (Still) Get Richer…: Understanding Ideology, Outrage and Economic Bias by Jeffrey Reiman

The Left Business Observer: Accumulation & Its Discontents

Picturing Justice: Journal of Law & Popular Culture

Independent Media Center

Corporate-Sponsored Crime Laws

Historical inertia, not conspiracy

By suggesting that the system is ‘designed’ to fail and the failure benefits the powerful, many people assume Reiman means a conspiracy theory. He explicitly states he does not believe in conspiracy theories because it could not be kept secret and “most people most of the time seem sincerely to believe that what they are doing is right.” Instead, criminal law had its origins in one-on-one harms, a punitive orientation to crime and was embedded in a system of inequality. Criminal justice policy never focused on effective crime prevention, criminalized harmful acts of the powerful or eliminated economic bias because these failures do not generate effective demand for change. The powerful benefit from this system and most people believe that the system is fighting the real threats (so they ask for more police and prisons). 

The result is that there remains a large amount of street crime from which people are inadequately protected, and people are inadequately protected from harms of the powerful. 

The game of Monopoly in a Stratified Society is similar to the board game, but with changes to reflect that not everyone starts off with the same bank account and the same likelihood of ending up in prison

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