In his text, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, Jeffrey Reiman attempts to provide insight into America’s bewilderingly high crime rate, and, at the same time, he offers an explanation as to why people commit crimes and the reasoning behind its title. Seemingly, the rich grow wealthier while the poor members of society increase the prison population. Reiman proposes inequality, the quality of prisons, and various policies, which directly influence crime, lend gravitas to his original theory. At what cost does the war on crime cannibalize itself and become a symptom instead of the cure?
Although there is evidence that suggests crime has declined in recent years, there is a staggeringly higher violent crime rate, particularly those of the violent variety, in America's African American communities than most other westernized countries. Reiman proposes that the United States' decrease may be due to policy changes because they increase incarceration rates for longer periods. In addition, critics question the effectiveness of these policy changes because, insofar, other countries have also experienced a decrease in crime without similar policies in effect. America’s crime rate does not have an individual cause, and Reiman feels that many of the reasons that supposedly explain the proliferation of high crime rates is, in fact, untrue if not completely dismissed. He rejects the notion that the United States is too soft on its criminals because America’s incarceration rates are one of the highest in the world. Reiman also supposes that there are fundamental differences between America and other industrialized nations, and even between states themselves. These wildly varying criteria between states cannot be explained away so easily that industrialization is the culprit of illegal activity. Otherwise, other similarly developed countries would have the same problem with crime. However, the sources of crime are not as simple as the previous excuses.
For this reason, Reiman separates sources of crime and causes of crime. The causes are the catalysts of crimes, whereas, sources serve as their foundations. The most glaringly obvious source of crime is the inherent inequality that is prevalent in American society. The materialism of this culture encourages consumerist consumption to the point of it becoming some strange, self-defeating idea. Given the immense difficulty in achieving this perversion of the American Dream, it serves as a source of crime for the rich and the poor. Furthermore, Reiman also criticizes the American prison system for its incapability to rehabilitate convicted criminals. Essentially, the penal system overcrowds prisons and offer little recourse for prisoners who seek change or the opportunity to learn new skills, which they may apply to life outside of the cell and hopefully prevent them from returning to crime. Compounded with the relative ease of obtaining a firearm in the US, it is a recipe for disaster.
Reiman emphasizes the uselessness of the war on drugs and to a lesser extent the immensity of the war on crime in general. The government uses an overwhelming amount of assets and funds to keep the war machine running. In turn, their protocol leads the media to propagandize crime as something only the less fortunate commit. In other words, media sensationalizes the wealthy society’s crimes, but they rarely view the rich as a component of crime. This invokes the troubling imagery behind the publicity of crime such as minorities in urban areas who are young and poor. Crime, through this lens, has filtered out those who have invented a scapegoat in these people. Those who are able to alter or distort the public perception of crime are those who have the power to create it—legislators, law enforcement, courts, and, most obviously, the media all provide a glimpse into this. Reiman’s argument alludes to the reasoning that white-collar crime might simply not be perceived as dangerous because it is not directly harmful. This manipulation occurs in media reportage of especially dangerous crimes and, therefore, distorts the global perception of illegal acts, yet it rarely highlights white collar crimes that indirectly threaten society. Thus, Reiman details a variety of sources that affect people more frequently than they might think such as ineffective healthcare, poverty, faulty products, and workplace hazards that public officials may feasibly link to white collar crime.
Overall, Reiman highlights the uncomfortable reality of judicial systems convicting the poor because of their destitution rather than their crimes. Often the poor cannot afford effective legal counsel or bail, so the conclusion is obvious. Financial disparity results in the impoverished being significantly less likely to have a fighting chance because not only are they more likely to receive jail time, they are also more likely to be dealt a harsher sentence. Reiman argues that white-collar criminals are less likely to be charged or even spend time in prison at all. Similarly, he asserts that law officials' focus on individualistic aspects of crime is ineffective because this individual does not exist in a vacuum and is instead a product of his or her community. Laws of the state trend towards serving the interests of the powerful, the wealthy, and neglects the rest of society. It is important to note that Reiman is not suggesting that the law is a conspiracy against the poor. Instead, it is an unfortunate coincidence of people believing that they are taking the right approach.
In order to decrease crime, Reiman suggests that education and training individuals for work must become a greater focus. With this, he also considers that the crime should be judged by the severity of the harm it causes. Finally, he would see that the judicial system affords every defendant the same legal benefits so that the law might judge equally.
Reiman, Jeffrey H. The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class, and Criminal Justice. Boston: Pearson, 2004. Print.