Criminalizing Poverty

From civicintelligence
Skid Row: Los Angeles


Poverty can be criminalized, both ideologically and physically in various ways in order to keep people in the cycle of poverty.

How it Works

Poverty is among the greatest threats to the structure and ideology of capitalistic culture. If poverty is viewed as being a failure of the system, the power structure may be in danger. Therefore, if the poverty stricken are classified as criminals, they are personally responsible for their state, and the power structure is not in danger.

Poverty is often criminalized in ways that are hidden to the public and not overtly "anti-poverty" on the surface. Legislators in some states have passed bills that force people who are applying for unemployment benefits to be drug tested and fingerprinted—creating a culture in which the unemployed are to be treated as criminals.[1] In many cities across the US cities are adopting anti-loitering laws which are often viewed as anti-homeless laws and anti-poverty laws. In many cities there are laws stating that people may not sleep on benches or other public areas, cannot sit down on the sidewalk, next to buildings, or on the ground. In San Francisco, laws against urinating or deficating in parks or other public areas are, "...being enforced with a new-found rigor even as the city repeatedly refuses to install public toilets."[2]


Cities, such as Los Angeles, have decided to implement policies to pump money into the police force and arrests for low level crimes with the idea that this will catch high level crimes as well. In the case of Los Angeles in 2005-2006 the city initiated a "Safer Cities Initiative" which was supposed to be a comprehensive plan to deal with the homelessness issue in the Skid Row area of LA. This was reportedly going to consist of comprehensive services including housing, mental health services, etc. Instead the city spent six million dollars in beefing up thier police service and zero dollars on other services.[3]

"In recent years, the United States has seen the proliferation of local measures to criminalize “acts of living” laws that prohibit sleeping, eating, sitting, or panhandling in public spaces. City, town, and county officials are turning to criminalization measures in an effort to broadcast a zero-tolerance approach to street homelessness and to temporarily reduce the visibility of homelessness in their communities. Although individuals experiencing homelessness should be afforded the same dignity, compassion, and support provided to others, criminalization policies further marginalize men and women who are experiencing homelessness, fuel inflammatory attitudes, and may even unduly restrict constitutionally protected liberties. Moreover, there is ample evidence that alternatives to criminalization policies can adequately balance the needs of all parties. Community residents, government agencies, businesses, and men and women who are experiencing homelessness are better served by solutions that do not marginalize people experiencing homelessness, but rather strike at the core factors contributing to homelessness."[4]


Denialism,Dehumanization, social Darwinism


  1. Sasha Abramsky. The American Way of Poverty: How the Other Half Still Lives. Nation Books, 2013. Pg. 178-179.
  2. Mitchell, Don. "The annihilation of space by law: the roots and implications of anti‐homeless laws in the United States." Antipode 29.3 (1997): 303-335. Pg. 305.
  3. Napper, T. (Director). (2013). Lost angels - skid row is my home [Documentary]. USA: Cinema Libre Studio.
  4. "Executive Summary." Searching out solutions: constructive alternatives to the criminalization of homelessness.. Washington, DC: United States Interagency Council on Homelessness, 2012. 2. Print.