† Criminal InJustice is a weekly series devoted to taking action against inequities in the U.S. criminal justice system. Nancy A. Heitzeg, Professor of Sociology and Race/Ethnicity, is the Editor of CI. Criminal Injustice is published every Wednesday at 6 pm.
Editors Note: In the midst of a heated campaign season – one fraught with economic debates aplenty — there is one term we will probably not hear in any debate.
And yes one constituency left unmentioned.
The persistence of widespread poverty — some 40 million officially – in the so-called richest nation on earth is often a source of personal discomfort and political peril. And so, the poor, despite their mighty numbers, are often rendered invisible.
Often all too literally. A recent report by the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty that examined 188 cities, there was a 7 percent increase in prohibitions on begging or panhandling between 2009 and 2011. Criminalizing homelessness in myriad ways was a central theme of the report:
City ordinance are frequently tools for criminalizing homelessness. Of the 234 cities surveyed for our Prohibited Conduct Chart (in the Advocacy Manual Appendix):
• 40 percent prohibit “camping” in particular public places, while 16 percent prohibit “camping” citywide;
• 33 percent prohibit sitting/lying in particular public places;
• 56 percent prohibit loitering in particular public places, while 22 percent prohibit loitering citywide; and
• 53 percent prohibit begging in particular public places, while 53 percent prohibit “aggressive” panhandling and 24 percent prohibit begging citywide.
The trend of criminalizing homelessness continues to grow. Among the 188 cities reviewed for the prohibited conduct chart in both the 2009 report and this report, we identified the following increases in criminalization measures:
• 7 percent increase in prohibitions on begging or panhandling;
• 7 percent increase in prohibitions on camping in particular public places; and
• 10 percent increase in prohibitions on loitering in particular public places.
The absence of meaningful public discourse on this disturbing trend prompts CI to republish an earlier piece, Media Justice and the Crime of Poverty –An interview with Tiny from POOR Magazine By Angola 3 News.. Wit gratitude as always.
It remains timely and provocative and reminds us that economic solutions must address the poor.
First not Last.