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Book Analysis: Not a Crime To Be Poor

The book, Not A Crime to Be Poor: Criminalization of Poverty in America, by Peter Edelman, explores the inner aspect of inequality and poverty in American societies and exposes how the criminal justice system continues to punish the poor, keeping them in an unending cycle of poverty. The author points out that poverty in America has been criminalized by a justice system that imposes extremely high fines and fees for minor offenses and crimes that mostly occurs in poor neighborhoods. The excessive fines and fees have doomed thousands of offenders to years in prisons, thus perpetuating the same cycle of poverty.

Edelman argues that successive governments since the time of President Ronald Reagan have systematically failed to address poverty in inner cities by aiding skewed justice systems. Through the Reagan era, anti-tax revolution, local and state governments were pushed to milk revenues from ordinary people through unreasonable fees and fines. The criminalization of poverty is entrenched through skewed housing ordinances, the unfavorable bail system, unfair child support enforcement, and mass incarceration of minor offenders who cannot afford high fines and fees handed over by the justice system. The book explores the entrenchment of poverty in Ferguson, Georgia, and other parts of America through justice systems that governments use as moneymakers.

The author makes a strong argument on the systematic entrenchment of poverty and makes a strong case for reforms that need to be made regarding inequality, access to services, and poverty. According to the author, the criminalization of poverty is not only limited to money but extends to many other areas of social life. For instance, playground confrontations that the principal could address are now sent to court, the street families are arrested for sleeping in public parks, and women are evicted for frequently asking for police protection against domestic violence. The author presents his views strongly and offers solutions that governments and individuals can adopt to address them.

The author’s main argument is that the poverty experienced in American society is partially a product of an unfavorable judicial regime. Edelman’s main argument is that both state and local governments have criminalized poverty through unfavorable judicial policies and skewed enforcement. The author clearly defends his thesis and line of thought by drawing practical conclusions based on realities in places like Ferguson and Georgia, thus robustly defending and supporting his arguments. Edelman draws conclusions from real-life places and happenings to effectively defend his arguments. The author also gives suggestive solutions at the end of every chapter, thus strengthening his views and opinions about the criminalization of poverty in the United States of America.

The issues addressed by the author border on the ethical approach to dealing with community and societal challenges. One ethical school that can be used to address the issues raised in the book is the utilitarianism framework. The utilitarianism framework is based on the ability to predict future consequences of an action. Utilitarianism defines ethical actions based on how many people they benefit. The more the people an act benefits, the more ethical it is considered. Utilitarianism is framework has two branches; act utilitarianism and rule utilitarianism. Act utilitarianists act for most people’s best interest regardless of personal benefits and feelings and societal inhibitions like laws. Rule utilitarianism focuses on benefiting most people through the justest and fairest means available.

The problem addressed by Edelman in the book regards unfair and unjust justice system that has criminalized and entrenched poverty in American society. Therefore rule utilitarianism approach is best suited to address the challenges and problems raised by the author. Formulating legal procedures favorable to the poor and making fines and fees affordable will afford each offender a just and fair trial at life. The rule utilitarian would play a critical role in ensuring that there is justice and fairness in the judicial and other social systems, thus ensuring the poor are not disenfranchised.

Corporate social responsibility is a major aspect of every organization that claims to be a good corporate citizen. Organizations have a great responsibility in shaping and influencing the communities around them. Organizations claiming to focus their corporate social responsibility towards eradicating poverty and ensuring justice should tailor their programs to address the problems raised in the book. Programs such as forming and funding legal support groups for the poor, petitioning local and state governments to review legal fees and fines, and empowering the incarcerated will address the challenges raised by Edelman. Investing in education programs focused on poor neighborhoods is another way corporates can help alleviate the challenges exposed in the book.

Although corporate social responsibility is a key aspect of every responsible corporate citizen, it has to be justified and, most importantly, beneficial to the stakeholders. Therefore, the proposed corporate social responsibility approaches for addressing the challenges raised by Edelman should be justifiable. The first justification is that people in these communities are their immediate customers, and as such, the organizations need to support them in areas of need. The second justification is that such programs could be potentially aligned with the corporates’ values, mission, and vision. Finally, such programs are likely to give the involved corporates more visibility, thus increasing and improving their brand image.

Individual businesses and HR professionals have an important role to play in addressing the problems raised by Edelman. Businesses, being a part of the community, should invest in uplifting the people’s living standards and communities around them. The businesses can also address the challenges by offering the people economic and social empowerment through direct employment and job-creating initiatives. The businesses can also use their business brand and personality to lobby and petition for a favorable justice system that does not perpetuate the vicious cycle of poverty. Individual HR professionals can play a role by developing workplace policies that support community work and volunteering. The HR professionals can help in addressing the issues raised by ensuring fairness at the workplace, particularly during recruitment, ensuring that the deserving candidates are not discriminated against based on their community and incarceration backgrounds.

In conclusion, the book was exciting and one of the most factual books to read. The book has a lot of information that is useful mainly to anyone seeking to understand the menace of poverty and inequality in America. One of the most exciting chapters of the book is the last chapter which outlines and discusses seven programs that are impacting the lives of the poor. The chapter makes it clear that it is not all doom and gloom as there are thousands of people working in communities, prisons, and the judicial systems to alleviate poverty and its impact on American society.

The book taught me never to negatively judge people or dismiss the unfortunate because, at times they are problems that are not of their own making. After reading the book, I developed a different view of people with records of incarceration and bail issues. The book made me understand that some of these people are hardworking, good citizens who the country’s justice system has simply shortchanged. The information presented in the book is very useful to anybody willing to understand and address the issue of poverty and inequality in the United States of America. The book was a great read loaded with valuable and practical information, and I would recommend it to anybody looking towards understanding the issue of poverty in one of the richest countries in the world; the United States of America.


Edelman, P. (2019). Not a crime to be poor: The criminalization of poverty in America. The New Press.


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