It’s obvious that socioeconomic inequality is a problem that persists in America and yet we haven’t found a solution. I think that we are looking in the wrong places. We tend to believe in higher wages and temporary assistance to get the poor on their feet. I would say that we have been too narrow-minded thinking all we got to do is give the poor more money. We have to realize that we are also taking from the poor. And, would you believe me if I said it is because of our justice system?
It’s pretty clear why we have a criminal justice system. Without it, there wouldn’t be anything to minimize crime or penalize those who break the law. However, the criminal justice system is flawed where money comes into the factor. Public Interest Lawyer Bryan Stevenson states that:
Regardless if a crime was committed, the probability of a poor individual being punished for a crime is much higher than one who is rich. Although it may seem ridiculous, wealth can buy freedom in many cases. Journalist Matt Taibbi explains and provides examples of how much easier it is for the poor to be disproportionately prosecuted in his book Divide: American Injustice in the Age of the Wealth Gap.
Not only does money allow the rich to hire the best lawyers and attorneys to argue their case but it also allows them to pay off initial fines. These fines are what cause a majority of poor individuals to face incarceration as many cannot afford to pay them off, rather than failing to pay by choice. But, maintaining the costs of the criminal justice system through fines and tax dollars are not enough. The criminal justice system also imposes an additional number of fees which continues to add up for the poor, who clearly cannot afford to pay and is the reason why they were incarcerated in the first place. Steve Colbert calls this cycle of punishments “The Debt Penalty.”
We cannot allow the criminal justice system to continue punishing the poor. Simply imposing monetary punishments at judges’ own “reasonable” discretion leaves the poor vulnerable to a cycle of debt, impossible to escape. Before fixing a problem, you first have to find the problem; therefore, we have to recognize the flaws in the criminal justice system and the need for change to advance towards a solution to socioeconomic inequality within America.