Poverty and Incarceration

Are we making it a crime to be poor, and is poverty a punishment for crime?

The Problem

Most persons behind bars in the U.S. were already struggling economically before incarceration.  After release, returning citizens face innumerable obstacles that make poverty more likely. Are we making it a crime to be poor, and is poverty a punishment for crime?  

The preferential option for the poor requires special attention and action directed toward the poor, vulnerable, and marginalized.


The Solution

Those who are struggling are not a menace to be contained but brothers and sisters who are owed solidarity and dignity.  

The common good is threatened by poverty not because poor people are dangerous but because human dignity is violated. Incarceration cannot be a solution to our society’s failure to support and empower those in need.


Featured Resources

Catholic Prison Ministries Coalition recommends the following resources for those wanting to better understand how to serve our brothers and sisters experiencing poverty and needing solidarity and dignity.  

On Poverty

Detaining the Poor: How money bail perpetuates an endless cycle of poverty and jail time

Report by the Prison Policy Institute, 2016

Prisons of Poverty: Uncovering the pre-incarceration incomes of the imprisoned

Report by the Prison Policy Institute, 2015

The Impact of Mass Incarceration on Poverty

Crime & Delinquency, Vol 59, Issue 4, 2013 | Robert DeFina and Lance Hannon

Prison Nation: The Warehousing of America's Poor

Edited by Tara Herivel and Paul Wright

Companion website for The Rich Get Richer & the Poor Get Prison, 11th edition (2017)

Jeffrey Reiman and Paul Leighton