Recent media coverage and advocacy efforts on behalf of individuals subjected to criminal sanctions as a result of their poverty status has resulted in increased attention on this nation’s troubled history of oppression and control of the poor and people of color. At the federal, state, and local levels, a growing number of policies create criminal sanctions for poverty-related circumstances. These, in turn, result in collateral consequences that unfairly affect those who lack the means to afford their criminal justice experience (i.e., processing costs, fees, and fines), or affect their ability to access employment, housing, or other basic services. These policies also disproportionately affect people of color, and the origins of many of these policies share a twisted history in decades of racial oppression and discrimination. In many respects, these criminal sanctions and collateral consequences lay on the surface of deep-seated social and economic ills that have been neglected, festering over decades and breaking out now in events over the past two years from Ferguson to Baltimore. Challenging these entrenched social and economic inequities will be necessary in order to produce real change for communities struggling against the criminalization of poverty. Legal challenges must be coordinated with community-based social movements emerging in these communities in order to confront the barriers to opportunity and structures that perpetuate inequities. Legal Aid programs have a historical grounding in this type of community-based impact advocacy work and are uniquely positioned to work together with community groups to bring about meaningful change.
Aneel L. Chablani,
Legal Aid's Once and Future Role for Impacting the Criminalization of Poverty and the War on the Poor,
Mich. J. Race & L.
Available at: http://repository.law.umich.edu/mjrl/vol21/iss2/8