Criminalizing Poverty

"In a country where we have ruled that debtors' prisons are unconstitutional, too many of our citizens are  in jail simply because they don't have the money to get out."

Loretta Lynch, Attorney General

About Criminalizing Poverty

Since the Department of Justice released its Ferguson Report, our nation has become increasingly aware of the phenomenon known as the "criminalization of poverty." This criminalization occurs most often in courts that handle misdemeanor cases, where individuals are arrested and charged with low-level, non-violent crimes. Indigent defendants are then held in jail because they cannot pay for their freedom, and all too often they are systemically coerced into pleading guilty as a way to restore their freedom as quickly as possible. Ultimately, they are forced to pay hundreds or even thousands of dollars in court costs and fees, thus perpetuating—and deepening—their financial straits.

On this page are a number of resources to help you learn more about this issue. We hope these resources will help all of us reach our goal: to stop the system from punishing people for being poor.

The Criminalizing Poverty Blog

News and articles related to the criminalization of poverty. For more, please go to the Resources section.

Most Recent


New Texas Law Changes Approach to Court Costs, Fines, and Fees

The governor of Texas signed a bill into law that propels efforts to provide alternatives to the traditional court costs, fines, and fees that many are unable to pay.

Federal Court Strikes Down Cap of Inmate Phone Call Cost

A federal court struck down regulations which placed a cap on the cost of phone calls from prison.

U.S. Supreme Court Weighs In on Harris County Bail Case

Justice Clarence Thomas denies Harris County's motion to halt the District Court ruling to release indigent misdemeanor defendants.

Pretrial Detention has Compounding Consequences

Prison Policy Initiative report explains the negative consequences of pretrial detention.

Cities Spend Millions Locking Up People Unable to Pay Bail

Recent report reveals NYC spends millions annually on incarcerating individuals unable to afford bail.
Read More »


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