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The Poverty to Prison Pipeline – How Poverty Gets Criminalized

April 22, 2019

“If you are low-income and of color in New York City, you are at an increased risk of being drawn into the criminal justice system. Systemic racism drives both poverty and mass incarceration of low-in-come people of color, putting these communities especially at risk for justice system involvement.

Low-income neighborhoods are the most heavily policed; social safety net benefits recipients are monitored, tracked, and prosecuted for fraud; low-income individuals of color are disproportionately drawn into the child support and welfare system and separated from their family members; justice system fees and fines have a greater punitive impact on low-income people; and exclusionary discipline in schools drives disengagement.

Research suggests that low-income students of color are disparately impacted and systems that are purportedly designed to support and protect individuals and communities instead often draw people into the criminal justice system.”


A new report by FPWA details the criminalization of poverty. The health and human services sector can disrupt the “poverty to prison pipeline” – but only by becoming aware of the key role they can play in battling poverty, according to the report.

“Although the majority of health and human services providers do not currently focus their service models to meet the complex needs of low-income and justice-involved individuals and families,” the report reads. “This sector is best positioned to provide non-punitive, client-focused, supportive services that can interrupt the Poverty to Prison Pipeline.”

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