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


Bill Introduced in United States Senate to Reform Bail System

Senator Kamala Harris, a Democrat from California, and Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, co-sponsored the "Pretrial Integrity and Safety Act of 2017," which was introduced into Congress on July 20, 2017. 

Man Unable to Afford Bail Sat in Jail on False Charges

A video released by the Office of the Maryland Public Defender shows a Baltimore police officer “placing a soup can, which holds a plastic bag, into a trash-strewn lot.” The officer then walks away to activate his body camera and returns to discover the drugs.


A Step Forward for Bail Reform in Cook County, Illinois

Chief Judge Timothy Evans of the Circuit Court of Cook County, Illinois issued an order reforming bail and pretrial procedures in the county on July 17, 2017.

New Connecticut Law Reforms the State's Pretrial System

Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy signed An Act Concerning Pretrial Justice Reform into law on June 27, 2017, and it took effect on July 1, 2017.


Memo to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights Discusses Disparate Impact of Court Fines and Fees in Nevada

On June 13, 2017, the Nevada Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights submitted a memorandum to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights, which detailed the Committee’s findings of inequities in Nevada’s implementation of court fines and fees and provided recommendations for reform.
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