Over the past several weeks and months, I’ve been thinking and talking a lot about the intersection of social justice issues and financial issues. They go hand in hand. One always influences the other. And that’s because without access to money and other resources, there aren’t many options. That applies whether you’re talking about housing, education, health, career, and of course, the criminal justice system.
The long and short of it is that you need money to avoid and navigate the criminal justice system. Wealthy people can afford great lawyers, they can post bail immediately, and simply, they can avoid being in contact with the police at all. And that’s because, as I’ve found in my research and conversations lately, poverty is criminalized in our society. You might think that sounds ridiculous, but once you dig into the facts, you’ll see that it’s true. And it’s up to us to make sure that these systems start to change.
Have you ever wondered why “panhandling” is illegal? Or why folks can get in trouble just for loitering? There are lots of laws out there that criminalize behavior that is done by those who are homeless. This approach is outlined in detail in a recent anonymous article entitled, Confessions of a Former Bastard Cop. Not only does this not help our homeless population in any way, but it harms them by putting them into the criminal justice system. Once someone enters the criminal justice system, they become more likely to remain the system or get caught up in it again in the future. Plus, there are fees associated with being in jail and being released, which might compound an already difficult financial situation.
Criminalizing Mental Illness
Over the last few decades, many of the mental institutions in the United States were emptied out and closed down. And that did not happen because everyone in these institutions had been treated and safely sent on their way. No, these institutions have been shut down without a clear solution for how people would be cared for moving forward.
Why is this relevant to the criminal justice system? It’s relevant because these hospitals were shut down, but there was nothing else created to replace them. Plus, there still is not adequate healthcare in the United States, so people without health insurance and money are unable to get the care and treatment that they need. Many of these people end up homeless.