Category: Sociology

The connection between poverty and crime is evident in many cases because the social and economic status of people influences the way they behave. This aspect has led to the stratification of races according to social problems such as poverty and crime. Darren Wheelock and Christopher Uggens article Race, Poverty, and Punishment: The Impact of Criminal Sanctions on Racial, Ethnic, and Socioeconomic Inequality'' discusses the impacts of criminal penalties on racial and gender bias. Poverty and crime affect the quality of life and social development of an individual and society as a whole. This paper illustrates the interconnection of social issues showing how crime, punishment, and poverty propagate such problems.

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The authors arguments discussed below would help better understand the nexus between crime, punishment, and poverty. First, criminal sanctions and victimization work to form a system of disadvantage that perpetuates stratification and poverty. Criminal sanctions and victimization influence stratification according to races. Although numerous studies have examined the impact of incarceration and criminal victimization on economic and family ties, the connections of such sanctions to racial and ethnic stratification remain largely unexplored (Wheelock & Uggen, 2006, p.2). Young men of color are at the significant risk of victimization and incarceration when compared to the white persons. Those at greatest risk of victimization are the "young people of color who are also highly vulnerable to the adverse effects of criminal punishment and victimizations'' (Wheelock & Uggen, 2006, p.1). Criminal sanctions are barriers to becoming a productive citizen active in ones community or responsible family man. Thus, sanctioning and victimization of the less educated man affects the family ties and brings about poverty since such a person is less productive. Fines, corporal and capital punishment, and incarceration are examples of criminal sanctions. Such penalties can make one ineligible for student financial aid, housing assistance, and a broad range of employment opportunities hence making it hard for such a person to escape from poverty.

Secondly, punishment impacts individuals convicted of felonies as well as their families, peer groups, neighborhoods, and racial group. The state imposes stigmas associated with a criminal record and federal laws prohibiting convicted felons from participating in labor markets and politics. Besides, such persons are unable to get student financial aid, housing assistance, and employment opportunities (Miller, 2005, p. 226). With the rising numbers of female prisoners, families are left behind as many children are left with no parent to attend to them when their mothers get to prison. Also, reduced household income due to diminished employment chances affects the family. Furthermore, a large number of released prisoners and parolees into the neighborhood remain under correctional supervision in their community which is a liability to the community. Upon release, prisoners re-entering their community face discrimination, low levels of social and human capital as well getting necessities such as housing (Wheelock & Uggen, 2006, p. 16). Therefore, the impact of criminal punishment on offenders, families, and communities has influenced social stratification and inequality in many ways as demonstrated above.

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Thirdly, after controlling for population differences, African-Americans are incarcerated approximately seven times more often compared to whites. The rates of criminal punishment have risen over years, leading to a new era that scientists term as "the new penology'' for punishing dangerous populations. This period is characterized by large numbers of police, criminal defendants, increased criminal justice expenditure, and the increasing representation of young black men in prisons (Wheelock & Uggen, 2006, p. 5). The continued racial inequalities in the U.S criminal justice system explain the high rates of incarceration. Differential treatment is the primary alternative to explaining racial and ethnic disparities in the incarnation. Research reveals that African-American criminal defendants are treated more harshly by the police, judges, parole and the release bonds than their white counterparts. Apparently, criminal punishment and mass incarceration of the offenders have a negative social impact because the younger generations of African Americans are at risk of the same.

Fourthly, variation in criminal punishment is linked to economic deprivation. With the average age of entry being 30 years, prisoners remain socioeconomically disadvantaged when compared with the general population. Most of them have very low levels of education. Besides, only a small number of them have full-time jobs before first arrest. When compared to the general population, men of the same age as the prisoners held full-time jobs, and many had attained a high school degree (Wheelock & Uggen, 2006, p. 12). Statistics has shown that earlier prisoners have always been poor but currently this is prevalent amongst those people living in poverty. On the top of the list, there are the poor and uneducated young African men who face the significant risk of incarceration (Wheelock & Uggen, 2006, p. 5). Disparities in punishment are likely to a result of systems that penalize the poor more harshly than the wealthy, but it is undeniable that a great percentage of those imprisoned come from poor backgrounds and circumstances.

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Lastly, as the number of felons and former felons rises, collateral sanctions a larger role in racial and ethnic stratification operating as an interconnected system of disadvantage. Collateral consequence provisions affect the socioeconomic status of communities from disadvantaged groups. Those rules reduce the employment prospects leaving people with criminal records the least likely to hear from the prospective employers when they submit job applications with African American males screened out of even entry-level employment (Wheelock & Uggen, 2006, p. 23-24). Besides, collateral punishments erode civic participation; those in high school are denied access to federal funding as well as removed parental rights (Miller, 2005, p. 226). The above consequences affect upon many poor families and families belonging to racial and ethnic minority groups. An increase in crime rate has forced the local authorities to build new prisons to combat crime. Collateral sanctions influence racial and ethnic stratification by demonstrating the adverse effects on people living in neighborhoods with high levels of incarceration. Individuals who live in such areas appear socially dangerous, which forms a basis for discrimination. Imprisoning the significant number of African-Americans promotes racial stratification with black children being raised in families which, according to the U.S. criminal justice system, record high rates of incarceration.

The interconnection of social problems illustrates clearly that criminal sanctions and victimization brings about stratification and poverty of the already vulnerable social groups since crime is often caused by poverty which propagates it further. Besides, various forms of punishment on offenders affect the families and the neighborhood raising such issues as being socially dangerous and having families and children suffering because of economic hardship. However, more research has to be carried out to determine further the impact of collateral sanctions on socioeconomic well-being and racial stratification. However, to minimize the impact of criminal penalties on racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic inequality, policy interventions such as a sentencing reform reducing the duration of criminal punishment should be considered. It would directly decrease the size of the criminal class and the social deficits of criminal sanctions. Likewise, ensuring fundamental rights such as the right to work and vote may minimize the impact of crime and punishment on inequality.

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