How Does Poverty Contribute to the Two?
Poverty, crime, and addiction are social elements that create social problems. According to Reiman, “poverty is a source of crime” (27). Poverty in America is a major problem. In the United States, one out of every five children grows up in poverty (Reiman, 86). Many factors contribute to poverty. Some examples of these factors include: financial aspects of addiction, exclusion, images of crime, subcultures of violence, lack of available resources, rational choice, and parental monitoring. These same factors are also linked to being contributors to drug addiction and criminal activities. These aspects and many others distinguish the casual relationships between poverty, crime, and addiction.
Financial Aspects affect poverty immensely. Poverty, coupled with addiction often leads to a criminal lifestyle. In estimation, according to Lurigio, there are approximately 4.4 million chronic illegal drug users in America (495). This devastating amount of drug use contributes to high crime rates, especially among the poor. In the United States, there is an overwhelming amount of inmates in the criminal justice system with limited resources (Belenko and Peugh 53). “Unlike middle- or- upper-class users, whose salaries allow them to purchase drugs, these inmates come mostly from the lower socioeconomic strata of society” (54). Therefore, finances needed to support an individual’s addiction, result in drug crimes. “Illicit drug use and criminal activity often co-occur as part of a deviant lifestyle” (Lurigio 496). Individuals will often resort to selling drugs in order to support their own addiction. Studies indicate that in the month before they were incarcerated, 36 percent of drug users were unemployed (Belenko and Peugh 55). The availability of financial resources impacts the addict and how they choose to obtain more drugs for addiction. This impact can contribute to crime when the addict has limited finances to support his/her addiction.
Exclusion oftentimes creates employment limitations leading to poverty among excluded individuals. Social exclusion has been a contributing factor to poverty. Gilinskiy states “the more exclusion amongst individuals, the higher the crime rate increases” (286). Exclusion amongst individuals has been an ongoing problem and is progressively creating more of a gap between the rich and poor (Reiman 27). During the eighties, this gap worsened (27). Early urban research found a disproportionate amount of delinquency and crime amongst minority and lower-class groups (Akers and Seller 170). Disadvantages and limited opportunities, resulting from exclusion, are also influences related to problem drug use (Buchanan 391). Deviant behavior, such as crime, results from strain and creates opportunity for illegal activities (Surratt, Inciardi, Kurt, and Kiley 44). Exclusion creates inequalities, limited access to everyday opportunities, and frustration among the excluded oftentimes leading to deviance and or drug use.
Social exclusion and inequalities resulting in strain and social problems are prevalent in many areas. Concerning crime in Russia, the soviet ideology “saw crime as a social phenomenon influenced by factors such as inequality, intergroup conflicts, strain arising from blocked opportunities, living conditions, and so on” (Gilinskiy 259). According to Klag, O’Callaghan, and Creed crime rates rise and fall with drug use (1778). Lurigio also finds that the use of illegal drugs will intensify certain types of criminal activities (496). The combination of poverty, exclusion, strain, anomie, deviant behavior, and crime lead to complex social problems in society and creates further exclusion among social classes. Social and economic inequalities create strain and feelings of conflict, resentment, hatred, and envy amongst members of society (Gilinskiy 274). This response results in internalized social strain and contributes to the creations of subcultures based on deviance and drug use. Some members of this subculture have the choice to flee from the area protecting themselves from victimization and criminal activities. However, poor members of this subculture are financially limited and sometimes forced to sustain living in these environments. The results of living under these conditions make these individuals more vulnerable to victimization, anti-social behavior, and negative influences. Elements of deviance combined with poverty and addiction also contribute to drug induced crime.
Durkheim proposes a theory resulting from this strain called anomie, meaning “normlessness or lack of social regulation in modern society” (Akers and Sellers 164). Merton applies Durkheim’s theory of anomie to the industrial societies concluding that anomie results from disassociation between cultural values and legitimate means in society, and the means to obtain those ends (164). American culture tends to value success and promote the ‘American Dream’ but the reality of the dream isn’t as accessible to all members of society. In reality, “disadvantaged minority groups and the lower class do not have equal access to such legitimate opportunities” (Akers and Sellers 165). These individuals hold aspirations learned though socialization in society, but are blocked off from the necessary opportunities to obtain those ambitions (165). This type of behavior creates “low frustration tolerance” causing the individual to be more confrontational (Baron, Forde, and Kay 122). As a result of this confrontational approach, these individuals may be more susceptible to victimization due to being physical and short sighted and failing to use measures for protection (122). “This anomic condition produces strain or pressure on these groups to take advantage of whatever effective means to income and success they can find, even if these means are illegitimate or illegal” (Akers and Sellers 165). This mentality and unintended creation of victimization, coincides with exclusion inequalities, and leads to further frustration and aggression among some members of society.
The “image of crime” creates stereotypes often leading to exclusion and poverty. The image of crime, according to Reiman, is created by the FBI’s uniform crime report (14). However, the UCR focuses on violent crime rates and overlooks white collar crime. Reiman states that “the criminal justice system needs to reflect the indirect harm caused by criminals in order to change the moral notions of crime” (69). Reiman suggests the criminal justice system does not protect the image of crime and questions whether the label of crime has been applied appropriately (56-57). This image also creates a ‘stigma’ resulting in discrimination, negative attitudes and expressions, lack of social acceptance, and derogation amongst members of society (Room 144). As a result, “The image of crime: The image that serious crime-and therefore the greatest danger to society-is the work of the poor” (Reiman 57). This viewpoint on crime establishes a social image of crime and creates exclusion and labeling. Room states “most members who are stigmatized are lacking social resources and are in poverty, but there is no exact relationship to stigmazation and poverty and/or social inequalities” (144). The criminal justice system interprets the image of crime and is left to profile members of society based on this created image.
The anti-drug policy established by the government is resulting in adding to crime (Reiman 37). Reiman states in relation to these drug policies, “the cure, we have chosen is worse than the disease” (33). Boland argues that “the definition of drugs is the real problem” (171). Boland claims the issues with illegal drugs in society is presented with misinformation and is lacking factual truths causing public fear but providing questionable theories on public policy (171). Drug misuse creates social, legal, and public health challenges for the modern world, but is also a popular topic for political manipulation (Boland 172). “Narrow and problematic ‘moral and political’ beliefs obfuscate the reality of illegal drugs and unfairly criminalize and pathologize users/addicts” (181). Attempting to place an image on the “average” criminal, creates stereotypical issues, prejudice, and leaves different races susceptible to discrimination by manipulative policy makers. It is arguable that the “image of crime” could create any benefits for potential victims; however, it is apparent that it can create room for exploitation. Boland emphasizes that the war on drugs represents to many a “phony war” causing more problems than it solves (182). The war on drugs has created a substantial increase in the incarceration rate in the United States. Boland idealizes that the real problem is the fact that the drug problem provides moral and scientific prejudice for public policy (182). The idea is that problems dealing with illegal drug use are created more by state policies and less on the actual pharmacology of the drugs (Boland 182). The idea of prejudice opinion created by government policies provides an insight to other social problems such as exclusion. The subculture created by strain maintains a dangerous value system influencing deviance, violence, crime, and substance abuse.
A subculture of violence is created through social exclusion and strain. A subculture of violence poses a value system for materialistic and survival success and emphasizes anomie (strain) (Surratt, Inciardi, Kurt, and Kiley 44). Concentrations of disadvantaged individuals with low income and limited opportunities for legitimate incomes result in a financial markets for illegal goods and services (44). This financial market creates demand for illegal products as well as establishes a value system for deviance and crime. The American dream of “equal opportunity for success is available to all” must be re-interpreted to oppressed individuals (Akers and Sellers 165). This interpretation results in opportunity for success by whatever means available, legitimate or illegitimate. In addition, possessions of substances become viewed amongst oppressed members as public goods, and represent power and domination (Room 144). The desire for success and the strain from oppression contributes to a demoralized perception and creates a subculture of violence and deviance. The concept of government prejudice, correlated with effects of exclusion, create devastating effects for many drug users, primarily the poor drug users.
Having a lack of available resources due to poverty further promotes poverty and creates an appeal for illegitimate resources. The available resources to an individual are in relation to their socioeconomic status. In dealing with the criminal justice system these resources have a major effect on the liberty of an individual. Reiman finds that there are two distinguishable factors that differentiate the lower and upper classes (114). These factors include (1) whether or not an individual is free out on bail prior to trial (the poor do not have the money in order to afford this type of service), creating the availability or unavailability to gather evidence, and (2) a legal counsel that is able to devote adequate time to the individuals case (114). Many lower class individuals are forced to rely on public defense attorneys. The type of attorney an individual has plays a substantial role in determining the outcome of the hearing. Reiman finds that the majority of public defenders, according to defendants, state within the first couple words “I can get you… if you plead guilty” (116). This type of service makes it almost inevitable that the individual will be coerced into pleading guilty for an unavoidable charge regardless or innocence or guilt.
The ability to make a rational choice is arguable among many criminal justice officials and is a common term used to justify the high incarceration rates. The rational choice theory idealizes why an individual would commit a crime or a deviant act. This theory derives on the basis of the individual making a rational choice by evaluating alternatives. Rational choice is based on a”expected utility” principle stating rational choices will be made by the expected choice to maximize profits and minimize losses or costs (Akers and Sellers 26). Beccaria and Bentham state in relation to rational choice theory, individuals weigh out the benefits and costs and make a choice to commit a crime based on those decisions to satisfy ones needs (Sung and Richter 687). In reference to poverty stricken drug addicted individuals, these choices influence their few opportunities to supply their addiction. Crime can become a result of their addiction and poverty. Rational choice resembles the deterrence theory which is based on the idea that “detection, apprehension, conviction, and punishment of offenders are all based on the theory that legal penalties are the chief deterrent to crime” (Akers and Sellers 29). As a result, policy makers interpreted and integrated a “get tough on crime” idea enhancing severity and more severe punishments in hopes to deter individuals (30). This result however, leads to an overwhelmingly increased amount of inmates in the criminal justice system. This result as well, increased the financial cost of crime and their social effects on the government and tax payers.
However, the aspect of making a rational choice for someone in poverty that already has limited choices can result in crime and incarceration. The effects of the “get tough on crime” policies create longer sentences and greater social problems. Policies derived from “get tough on crime” create more disparity among poverty stricken families decreasing their income for a longer period of time ultimately making it more difficult to overcome their poverty. “Between 1980 and 2003, the number of inmates in the United States quadrupled from 501,886 to 2.212.475 with the state prison population increasing more than 300%” (Belenko 95). These inmates upon release face many challenges relating to re-integration to mainstream society (95). Along with the effects of incarceration, inmates are labeled as a felon, which creates issues with employment and social interactions. For inmates where poverty was already an issue prior to incarceration, tacking on the label of a felon and the inability to provide a work history makes successful reentry nearly impossible. These issues create obstacles for many released offenders making the decision of rational choice and alternatives minimal.
However, when attempting to take preventative measures against drug addiction and crime, parental monitoring among children can play a vital role. Parental Monitoring can deter or create opportunity for deviance such as drug abuse and crime. In regards to delinquency and drug use, effective parental monitoring has shown results producing reductions in some undesirable behaviors and is a protective element in relation to drug use and delinquency (Robertson, Baird-Thomas, and Stein 758). Conversely, poverty, stress, depression, and family structures interfere with parental monitoring, making low socioeconomic status parenting more challenging (758). Fischer, Geger, and Hughes find that “more than 70% of the 869,000 women under the criminal justice surveillance have children under 18 years- 1.3 million children” (704). These neglected children, are left in a poverty induced environment with little or no resources. The effect of poor parental monitoring combined with poverty assist in creating the vicious cycle of poverty, addiction, and crime. Problematic results occur when parental and child relationships are destroyed (by incarceration or drug addiction) creating non-effective parental monitoring.
Overall, issues with poverty as they relate to drug addiction and crime are viewed from many different aspects resulting in lowered opportunities, alternatives, and strain. These approaches have devastating effects on lower socioeconomic classes due to the lack of resources, primarily financial, that are available to them. The result, as Reiman states is “it’s not merely the guilty who end up behind bars, but the guilty poor” (134). Social exclusion amongst members of society creates inequalities, discriminations, and oppression. The results on psychological and mental interpretations result in frustration, aggression, and vulnerability. The ‘get tough on crime’ and ‘war on drugs’ policies substantially increased incarceration rates by using punitive approaches to alleviate crime. Subcultures of violence create as a result interpretations of the “image of crime” placing individuals, [especially in poverty due to immobility], susceptible to victimization, negative influences, and drugs. Individuals under these circumstances have limited opportunities in reference to choices (Buchanan 391). Furthermore, political ideology and policies contribute to the motions for exclusion by defining the criminal by superficial statistics that overlook white collar crime. Policies are then created from discriminatory labels and create or worsen poverty among some members of society.
Poverty creates (1) opportunity for these alternatives, (2) financial prospects for illegitimate goods, (3) and a value system built on survival and material goods. Rational choice theory conceptualizes the reasoning behind drug use and crime and states that the individual evaluates their alternatives, which previously noted for the poor is limited, and makes a choice to commit crime based on the benefits and costs. Rational choice is also affected by perceptions of social reality, and the effects that strain and anomie have on those perceptions. The effect from the abuse of substances also distorts these perceptions and creates unpredictable behaviors. According to Boland, “The reality is all drugs, legal or otherwise, if used excessively, irresponsibly or under the wrong circumstances are harmful and potentially lethal” (182). Parental monitoring has been shown to have influential effects to deterring deviance among adolescence. The effects of increased incarceration rates from public policy has placed strain on parenting relationships and in some cases placed the burden on the state. The detrimental affects are increasingly problematic to socialization. Criminal activity, substance abuse, and deviance remain to be critical problems for society. Durkheim recognizes however that “societies benefit from the existence of deviants” (Reiman 39). The influences of poverty on these aspects often result in incarceration as well as other consequences upon reintegration.
Deviance, ill stated, is induced by drug use and poverty. Nevertheless, when looking at these causal factors one must evaluate the reasoning behind addiction as well as the alternatives available. Many drug users and criminals often find that following treatment and release, they are limited in the type of life they return to. Some users distinguish their social interactions and limit themselves to individuals within the same social class and/or other users. Being in recovery can place these individuals into isolation among members of their social group creating stress along and their financial strain. Some environments may socially exclude members that do not engage in the same criminal activities causing frustration and sometimes victimization. These factors play distinguishable roles in the rational choices an individual makes concerning crime and drug use with relation to poverty.
Akers, R. L., & and Sellers, C. S.. Criminological Theories; Introduction, Evaluation, and
Application. Los Angeles: Roxbury Publishing Company, 2004.
Baron, S. W.. “Self-Control, Risky Lifestyles, and Situation: The Role of Opportunity and
Context in the General Theory.” Journal of Criminal Justice, 2007. 119-136.
Belenko, S.. “Assessing Released Inmates for Substance-Abuse-Related Service Needs.” Crime
& Delinquency, 2006. 94-113.
Belenko, S., & and Peugh, J.. “Fighting Crime by Treating Substance Abuse.” Issues in Science
and Technology, 1998. 53-60.
Boland, P.. “British Drugs Policy: Problematizing the Distinction Betwen Legal and Illegal
Drugs and the Definition of the 'Drugs Problem'.” The Journal of Community and
Criminal Justice, 2008. 171-187.
Buchanan, J.. “Missing links? Problem Drug Use and Social Exclusion.” The Journal of
Community and Criminal Justice, 2004. 387-397.
Fischer, M., Geiger, B., & and Hughes, M. E.. “Female Recividists Speak About Their
Experience in Drug Court While Engaging in Appreciative Inquiry.” International
Journal of Offender Therapy and Comparative Criminology, 2007. 703-722.
Gilinskiy, Y.. “Crime in Contemporary Russia.” European Journal of Criminology, 2006. 259-
Klag, S., O'Callaghan, F., & and Creed, P.. “The Use of Legal Coercion in the Treatment of
Substance Abusers: An Overview and Critical Analysis of Thirty Years of Research.”
Substance Use and Misuse, 2005. 1777-1795.
Lurigio, A. J.. “Drug Treatment Availability and Effectiveness; Studies of the General and
Criminal Justice Populations.” Criminal Justice and Behavior, 2000. 495-528.
Okundaye, J.. “Drug Trafficking and Addiction Among Low-Income Urban Youths: An
Ecological Perspective.” Journal of Children and Poverty, 1999. 21-42.
Reiman, J.. The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, Ideology, Crime, and Criminal
Justice. Needham Heights: Allyn & Bacon, 1995.
Robertson, A. A., Baird-Thomas, C., & and Stein, J. A.. “Child Victimization and Parental
Monitoring as Mediators of Youth Problem Behaviors.” Criminal Justice And Behavior,
Room, R.. “Stigma, Social Inequality and Alcohol and Drug Use.” Drug and Alcohol Review,
Sung, H.-E. a.. “Rational Choice and Environmental Deterrence inthe Retention of Mandated
Drug Abuse Treatment Clients.” International Journal of Offender Therapy and
Comparative Criminology, 2007. 686-702.
Surratt, H. L., Inciardi, J. A., Kurtz, S. P., & and Kiley, M. C.. “Sex Work and Drug Use in a
Subculture of Violence.” Crime & Delinquency, 2004. 43-59.