Race, Poverty and Punishment: The Impact Of Criminal Sanctions On Racial, Ethnic, and Socioeconomic Inequality

June 2006

Darren Wheelock, University of Minnesota; Christopher Uggen, University of Minnesota

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The association between crime, punishment, and poverty has long been the subject of sociological and criminological investigation. A classic literature has linked poverty to crime (Blau and Blau 1982; Braithwraite 1981; Sampson 1987; Shaw and McKay 1942; Wolfgang and Ferracuti 1967). This line of inquiry has typically examined the role of poverty and deprivation enhancing the risk of criminal involvement and criminal victimization. Such an approach typically places individuals or groups at the center of the analysis striving to understand how or why socioeconomic status would compel or shield individuals and communities from deviant motivations and behaviors.1 This venerable body of research has generated a wealth of scholarship linking high crime rates to poverty or its correlates, such as family disruption (Sampson 1987), economic inequality (Blau and Blau 1982), and social disorganization (Shaw and McKay 1942). Recent patterns of criminal justice policy marked by dramatic increases in all forms of criminal justice sanctions, however, have shifted attention to the role of punishment in contributing to racial and ethnic inequality.

Crime, Incarceration, and the Labor Market, Discrimination, Race and Ethnicity