Category Archives: Criminalizing the poor

Owners of the prison system in America


Profiteering off the prisoners / Prime stockholders in Correction Corp. of America / Funding Streams Exposed / Corporate Public Private Scheme Exploiting, Criminalizing Vulnerable People

From: Lynn Schmaltz

I had many opportunities to educate women on the monetary system of jail. The moment an order is written, whether it’s a warrant or a traffic ticket, or whatever, the money machine is activated. Every prisoner has a monetary value to our government whether its local, county, state or federal. Bonds are written based on the person’s name and social security number and are sold through a brokerage firm such as AG Edwards or Merrill Lynch who has the contract to sell all the prison bonds for the city, county, state or federal prisons. Over 50% of the money market bonds right now are purchased in Japan or China. I’ve been told by researchers that Walmart and, used to be, Kmart also purchase these bonds, Walmart mostly doing so by emptying out bank accounts at night. Both companies are fronts for enormous money machines.

The way the bond works is that a monetary value is placed on the alleged crime and then factored the way banks factor their money. In other words if a person is convicted of a felony the ‘value’ would be $4 million. The county/city/ state then multiplies it by ten, so the bond that goes out for sale with the prisoner’s name and social security number is a short-term ‘promissory’ note. It’s offered at $40 million. Perhaps an investor will offer 40% of the $40 million, or $16 million. Once this ‘promissory note’ of the face value of $40 million reaches the banks it is then multiplied again by 200 to 300% and sold as bank securities. For those of you who wonder why the US has more people in prison per capita than any other nation on earth, you’ll begin to understand how we can have a weakening economy and still fund wars overseas. It’s all based on prisoners….in other words, prison for profit.

Knowing all this and knowing that a prisoner can have a ‘net worth’ of say, $10,000 per day in the money markets, helped me explain to many bewildered women why they were in jail. We were only merchandise in a warehouse. The storage was pretty cheap; one woman while in jail researched the cost of feeding prisoners per day which ranged from 74 cents to $2.72 per prisoner per day.


Profiteering off the prisoners / Prime stockholders in Correction Corp. of America / Funding Streams Exposed / Corporate Public Private Scheme Exploiting, Criminalizing Vulnerable People

Research and excerpts from LETTERS FROM JAIL

From: 20lynnsch [at] spinn [dot] net”>Lynn Schmaltz

I had many opportunities to educate women on the monetary system of jail. The moment an order is written, whether it’s a warrant or a traffic ticket, or whatever, the money machine is activated. Every prisoner has a monetary value to our government whether its local, county, state or federal. Bonds are written based on the person’s name and social security number and are sold through a brokerage firm such as AG Edwards or Merrill Lynch who has the contract to sell all the prison bonds for the city, county, state or federal prisons. Over 50% of the money market bonds right now are purchased in Japan or China. I’ve been told by researchers that Walmart and, used to be, Kmart also purchase these bonds, Walmart mostly doing so by emptying out bank accounts at night. Both companies are fronts for enormous money machines.

The way the bond works is that a monetary value is placed on the alleged crime and then factored the way banks factor their money. In other words if a person is convicted of a felony the “value” would be $4 million. The county/city/ state then multiplies it by ten, so the bond that goes out for sale with the prisoner’s name and social security number is a short-term “promissory” note. It’s offered at $40 million. Perhaps an investor will offer 40% of the $40 million, or $16 million. Once this “promissory note” of the face value of $40 million reaches the banks it is then multiplied again by 200 to 300% and sold as bank securities. For those of you who wonder why the US has more people in prison per capita than any other nation on earth, you’ll begin to understand how we can have a weakening economy and still fund wars overseas. It’ s all based on prisoners…. in other words, prison for profit.

Knowing all this and knowing that a prisoner can have a “net worth” of say, $10,000 per day in the money markets, helped me explain to many bewildered women why they were in jail. We were only merchandise in a warehouse. The storage was pretty cheap; one woman while in jail researched the cost of feeding prisoners per day which ranged from 74 cents to $2.72 per prisoner per day.


From: “Lynn Schmaltz” Sent: Friday, September 24, 
2004 8:46 AM Subject: Re: Paine Webber


*Owners of the Prison Systems in America* CORRECTION CORP OF AMERICA headquartered in Nashville, Tennessee owns all private prison systems in AMERICA and are selling the commercial paper. How it Works: A bid bond is done on Form 24, which comes out of the GSA Office (General Services Administration which is out of GAO (General Accounting Office} which is under the Comptroller General. This Blake Bond Bid Bond is promulgated at the time the social security card is issued. When you are arrested the bond is filled out and they issue a Performance Bond, which is done from Form 25, and then they do a Payment Bond, which is a Form 25A.

The Bonds are being underwritten by the Banks. This is where the PAINE WEBBER GROUP comes in. The Plaintiff in all criminal tax cases in the USA is the PAINE WEBBER GROUP as the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA. The PAINE WEBBER GROUP is a group of international businesses. The PAINE WEBBER GROUP is providing the Securities for the prisons and is selling the Bonds, and the Banks, The ABA (AMERICAN BANKING ASSOCIATION) like LEHMEN BROTHERS, in New York City, are the underwriters on the Bonds. The Banks
(the underwriters) is where the money is originally coming from.

A six digit tracking number is issued for the Certificate of Stocks in the Commodity and Security Exchange in the USA by CUSIP 
(see and the law enforcement tracking software) and a nine digit number (called Ordnance Number) is issued for the Certificate of Stocks going internationally to ANNA (Lynn’s note: see link for ANNA which is in Brussels, Belgium at www.cusip. com ). These Securities are sold through the Commodity and Security Exchange. The bottom line is they are selling stocks in the prison system. The jails are referred to as Warehouses and the prisoners are called Goods (oops, Lynn had it ‘wrong’…. she told the ladies in Bernalillo County Metropolitan Detention Center that we were in the Warehouse and we were the ‘Merchandise’ which explained the many flimsy reasons many of the ladies were in the prison….. it was just business, and just revenue). They are selling the Goods or the Account as Chattel, and as Commercial Paper on the Stock Exchange. Reminds one of the days when slaves were bought and sold on the auction block!

The PAINE WEBBER GROUP is the prime stockholder in this CCA (Correction CORP of America). (Lynn’s note: the transport company who transported her to Colorado in a van with 16 other prisoners being transported about had the words “Transport Corporation of America…. Nashville, Tennessee.” Transport rides are also called ‘diesel therapy’ by those who know about them.} However twenty of the largest companies such as WAL-MART; EXON; GENERAL MOTORS; FORD MOTORS; CHEVY; TEXICO; CITY CORP; IBM; EXPHILIP; HEWLETT PACKARD; VERIZON; UNITED POSTAL SERVICE (UPS); and etc. are also involved as well as other stock holding corporations (There are sixteen pages of the names of corporations that hold these stocks amounting to billions of [dollars].) Of course the monies generated is all off budget with no accounting to the People, even though the CORRECTION CORP OF AMERICA through the PAINE WEBBER GROUP is acting in the capacity of the UNITED STATES OF AMERICA.

AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL: Promotes Privatization of the Prison System. Paul Weybrick 
(may be miss spelled) runs what is called the FREE CONGRESS FOUNDATION, which owns the AMERICAN LEGISLATIVE EXCHANGE COUNCIL. THE REASON FOUNDATION and THE CORNELL COMPANY are involved as well.

The following are notes I wrote after Paul and I were released from Colorado on August 20, 2004. Right now there are many forms of jail in the US–actual jail, CCP ankle bracelet, transport jail, probation, parole……… they all generate income:

Paul and I were released on Friday on personal recognizance and allowed to go to New Mexico. We have a hearing in CO on Sept 13, 04. We got home Sat. night and have been doing catch up here at home today. I’ll write an update on Monday or Tuesday. I will especially have some words about the very heinous prison transport system in our country. For now suffice it to say that it took 20 hours in a prison van with 16 prisoners to get from Albuquerque to Hot Sulphur Springs, normally a 8 or 9 hour trip. All of us rode in hand cuffs and shackles the entire trip. There were 3 stops for McDonalds’ ‘food.’ No one but the officers got off the van unless they were being dropped off. No exercise at any point. No movement allowed but to use the porta potty on board. Cattle being transported across country are generally treated better. I talked with a man who’d been on transport from California to Colorado since July 8, 04. My transport date was August
11, 04. Someone in the Midwest told me he knew of a prisoner being transported for six months and occasionally dropped off in a county jail somewhere to await a different transport van. It’s my understanding that once you’re a prisoner in the system, the county/agency holding you is floating bond for $10,000 per day with your name and your bar code (Soc. sec. #) and these bonds are bundled periodically and sold through Merrill Lynch, AG Edwards, etc. for each state.

Prison for profit…….. it’s not just baloney and white bread. More later and thanks for keeping up your daily news. Paul was released from CCP
(ankle bracelet) in Albuquerque and allowed to drive up to Hot Sulphur where he spent another 3 days in jail (my time over the summer has been 5 days in May, 18 days in June-July, 15 days in August and on house arrest, bond from May 24 to June 25, and ankle bracelet from mid-July to August 5, 04). Thankfully, Paul with all his transplant medications, diabetes medications, was in from May 19-24, 04. The rest of the time he was on bond or ankle bracelet house arrest. I doubt he’d have survived a prolonged transport situation. The alleged crime? “Influencing a public office” and “filing a false document.” This is what they called our UCC1 financing statement sent when we informed public officials there would be a fee for using our copyrighted property (PAUL SCHMALTZ and PATRICIA SCHMALTZ), which they did anyway.

And, of course, there were no repercussions for those officials when they held a fraudulent, unpublished sale our home/business on the court house steps, etc. As you well know there is no remedy in the courts of any kind. They completely ignored our sovereign status with Little Shell Pembina and Apostille with the sovereignty filed by cancellatura.

Lynn Schmaltz


Jails, prisons, bonds

Research explaining how living souls are made prisoners for the making of Billions of Dollars for the slave making Governments and their Banking henchmen through incarcerations.

I do not know for sure who wrote this but it looks to be right on the money in most cases and I recommend some Texians trapped in these dungeons on the land of Texas try this.

Gxxx is investigating more into the criminal jail/prosecution aspects. The results are incredible. His strawman is currently on probation from activities that were the result of Cxxxx prosecution of 17 to 18 people who were attempting to help patriots to buy Cadillacs. He was put in jail for a year, then a half way house. He’s been researching admiralty. When he was ready to leave the half way house he was caught on the computer creating a bill of exchange and the guards and matrons thought it was criminal activity so they jerked him back into jail for violating his probation for putting a blank bill of exchange. Jxxx had advised him that he had to quit fighting these people or he’d be in dishonor under admiralty and he had to keep raising questions rather than fighting and denying the charges. He was only in jail about 4 or 5 days and when they tried to interrogate him to get him ready for his hearing where the judge would eventually put him back into prison. He started using the correct tactic of accepting and asking questions. He got the prosecutor (assistant) to throw up her hands and scream he was too smart for her, to just get out. He’s been in a half way house since May.

The last time he had a probation hearing with his officer in Cxxxx, he’d gone to the meeting personally. Before he went, he’d written a letter to her, the judge, the prosecutor, and others, and said that he requested that they deliver to him the bonds from CUSIP (Committee on uniform securities identification procedures (CUSIP) – the committee that assigns the numbers to securities for identification, usually bonds. … Glossary: CUSIP. Committee on uniform securities identification procedures (CUSIP) – the committee that assigns … ( which were being used to underwrite his time in prison and his time on probation. He wanted them to deliver the bonds being held by CUSIP and other government agencies so he could accept them for settlement and closure. When he went to his probation officer meeting he was disappointed because his probation officer wasn’t there to meet with him. He filled out a form and left. It seems that no one wants to talk with him or meet with him now that he’s asked for the CUSIP bonds so he can settle and close the bonds.

CUSIP is an acronym. Gxxx is telling us that all criminal prosecution is for the purpose for raising revenue for the United States of America and he’ll tell us who that is. Now you’ll have a better understanding of why people are in jail, why they are in prison, why they are on probation and why they are charged with everything from jaywalking on up through murder one. Jack further heard from others researching, and Gxxx is also saying that every American soldier who dies in Afghanistan and Iraq probably carries a $10 million life insurance on him carried by our government. After all, every soldier, marine, or air force person is an asset to the United States of America. They have a huge investment in that particular soldier and his activity and it can explain why it is that the US is not so anxious to withdraw its troops from that area. It’s a money making activity and they don’t want to talk about the fact that they are making money on death and that they are making money the incarceration and imprisonment on otherwise good hearted people.

Gxxx: The key to finding out what you want on the Internet knows how to put it into the computer. If you put the right information in there, you get the right answer. He’s been finding out who the investor is the 144 holders. They have a rule called the 144 holder. The rule is that they can’t sell private investment securities that are not registered. The rule prohibits them from selling the prison bonds. They have to wait 6 months before they can sell a certain quantity of private securities without being registered, selling them as private securities. Basically there are 8 people on the board of directors of CCA (Corrections Corporation of America ( E. Russell, the top holder, and John M Ferguson. Russell owns 64,000 shares of CCA stock which is worth about $70 million. Ferguson owns 34,000 shares valued at about $37 million.

Fidelity Management and Research is the top stock holder, the top investment firm that is selling the bonds as investment securities. They pool them and sell them as mortgage backed securities. They also when they pool them, they sell them as mutual funds on the stock market. By pooling you mean the securities on the inmates. What they are doing is they are actually taking the mortgage backed securities, which are really bid bonds, performance bonds and payment bonds. They pool these bonds and when they pool them together they call them mortgage backed securities. They take these to TBA which is the Bond Market Association. It’s an actual market for bonds. Anytime a bond is issued there has to be an underwriter. The bonds have to be underwritten. Bonds that are issued have to be indemnified so there has to be surety (spelling?) to indemnify the bonds. The brokerage houses and the insurance companies indemnify the bonds. They’re called surety companies.

After the surety companies indemnify the bonds, which are underwriting them, they do this through an investment banker or the banks themselves do this. They job it out to them. They buy up all these shares and turn around and sell them as investment securities. The shares represent the stock which represents the account of CCA. All of this has been funneled through CCA, the Corrections Corporation of America. What they are doing is selling stock in the prison system by selling the prisoners’ accounts as securities through the securities exchange. They are making huge amounts of money off it. They privatize the prisoners’ accounts and bring all these investors in and what they are doing is underwriting all these prisoner’s accounts (bonds). This is after the surety company guarantees the bonds. Then they are underwritten through an investment bank or banker. Then they are put out on the market and resold to the public. In other words the banks are buying up all the shares and then they resell them as investment securities to the public. The public then buys them as mutual funds or they can buy them as debt instruments, equity instruments.

What they are really doing is they are buying up debt instrument. They are using the fiscal accounting cycle of accrual and they sell the prisoner’s ‘capital and interest’ as it is called in accrual accounting. They resell these to the public because the prisoner did not do full settlement and closure on the account. They sell the prisoner accounts as a commercial dishonor and sell it to the public as a commercial dishonor.

When you go in the courts they always say they are operating under a statute jurisdiction. The Black’s Law Dictionary 4th edition says a statute is a bond or obligation of record. That’s what all the criminal statutes are……..bonds or obligation of record. Go in and read the definition of a recognizance bond and you find that it is a bond or obligation of record. They are selling bonds. They are charging prisoners under a bond; the prisoner signs the bond and the bond becomes the agreement for the payback. This is done when the prisoner signs the final court papers at a sentencing hearing.

Jxxx: how many of us remember when our government attempted to finance from the private sector the Second World War. Weren’t they selling war bonds? They were soaking up the people’s equity in terms of buying bonds, transferring your funds to the government. The government by purchasing those bonds was promising to pay you back your investment at sometime in the future with interest. At that time what they were collecting from the people was their so-called cash equity. What Gene saying now is that people have gotten too poor, too stingy and too smart to buy bonds to finance the government? How long has it been since you heard the Post Office or anyone trying to get you down to buy US savings bonds?

So what they are doing now instead of getting us to voluntarily give our cash equity to the government for a promise to be paid back in the future, they are securing from us some violation of a statute by which the law ascribes from us a penalty; i.e., the payment of a sum of money due. Instead of collecting the cash from us, they put us through a criminal procedure where we dishonor the system and what Gene said is what is happening is they are selling our capital and our interest. In other words, they are selling the liability you had in whatever charge has been brought against your straw man. They are taking that capital and interest that you should pay and are grabbing that from us and selling it on the open market to bankers and investors to transfer their funds to government which is covered by the bond of the violation of your straw man of that statute. In order to secure the bond the living soul is placed in prison as the surety to back the bond which is financed on the investment of the public market place in terms of the sales of stocks and bonds.

The public doesn’t directly bid on my (the prisoner’s) debt. Your debt is assumed by the bankers. The bankers issue secondary paper that allows me to invest in what they are holding as the holder in due course of the claim against your straw man. The reason they are doing this is because you dishonored the post settlement procedures for settlement and closure of the account. The prisoner should have come in and accepted and used his exemption. Since the prisoner dishonored the post settlement proceedings, then the prisoner is in dishonor and the issuance of the bonds by the financing system was done in order to pass the punishment on to him because of his inability to fulfill his post settlement objectives.

If you get into to dishonor by non-acceptance, what they are trying to do is get an acceptor which is the same thing as a banker. They need someone to pay off the obligation and if you get into dishonor, they sell your dishonor and put you into prison as the collateral and they sell the bond. The bond is issued and they get a surety to underwrite the bid bond with a performance bond and then they get an underwriter to underwrite the performance and payment bonds. What the performance bond does is it guarantees the bid contract, or the bid bond. What the bid bond does is guarantee the payment of the performance bond. This is done through a surety company. Then they get an underwriter or an investment banker to underwrite it. After it’s underwritten, they sell it to the public as investment securities, debt instruments, or mutual backed securities.

It’s all done through bonds…bonding. That’s what all these municipal bonds are. What they doing is following everything through the prison system. The prison system is being privatized. Through privatization, private enterprise can fund the prison system cheaper than the government can. They are subsidizing everything through privatization.

ALEC does this; the American Legislative Exchange Council, promotes privatization through foundations like the Reason Foundation owned by David Knott. They get the foundations to promote this and get investors to come in. Cornell was merged with Trinity Venture Company which is an investment company. What they did was changing their name to Reid Trinity Venture and then merged with SB Warburg. (Warburg was out of Germany or France and partnered with Rothschild). SB Warburg is in Chicago, Illinois, and they merged with BIF in Switzerland, which is a settlement and closure bank, and the biggest bank in the world for settlements. They are connected to Cornell Company which is owned by David Cornell.

Everyone is tied in. Paine Webber Group is the United States of America and all the big international corporations are the stockholders and own all the stock in CCA. Everyone is using our exemptions on the private side. They filed a 1096 tax return and show it as a prepaid account, as prepaid interest and they returned it back to the prisoner. They took the prisoners deduction for the exemption and they deduct the tax and the IRS bills the prisoner for the tax. So the corporations are stealing your exemption which is your intellectual property. What’s wrong with this? They are not telling us what they are doing. It’s all commercial. When you go into the court room everything is commercial. Vxxxxx in her seminar says the facts don’t matter, the facts are on the moon. What matters is honor and dishonor. The courts have to dishonor the potential prisoner or get that ‘person’ to argue or get that ‘person’s’ attorney to argue. Just like Martha Stewart. Argue and you’re in dishonor and you’ll end up in jail.

The attorneys are actors to make us think the whole process is a factual issue. They get us into the guilty/not guilty mode and they get into all the cloak and dagger or what evidence to present. It’s a dog and pony show to cover up that they are after the debt money. All corporations work on a fiscal accounting year which means that they spend debt. They can’t get rid of the debt and balance the books unless they run it through our accounts on the private side. We the people run on a calendar year and the corporations run on the fiscal year. They can only balance their books is to run it through our accounts using our exemptions. Then they can do their reverse bookkeeping entry and go to post settlement and closure. They can’t do that until the prisoners do the acceptance (if they do it). That what they are looking for in the court room under 3-410 is the acceptor.

That means we are assuming the liability for the debt as the principal. A lot of times with debt the principal is always the primary libellant in the commercial setting. He has to assume the liability and then you get your remedy. Otherwise you don’t get a remedy. They sell your account to some corporation while you’re sitting in prison.

How many times has government ever had a case against anyone? The attorneys have to attempt to get you to go right into argument and trial and go into dishonor. Axxxx was given documents from Redwood Trust on a mortgage foreclosure. She did a conditional acceptance and she did a heck of a job. She stopped them cold and they took the property off the market. At the end she said if they didn’t answer her within 14 days she was going to resort to notorial protest and get remedy for dishonor. She went into the fact that their charter doesn’t allow them to loan credit, she wanted to know the name of the company who was the source of the credit, she wanted the name of the account number, she wanted certified copies of the font and back of the promissory note. She was trying to get them to divulge that it was her secured party creditor that was the source of everything they were doing. She was forcing them to admit that it was her promissory note that was the basis of the credit instrument that they loaned and that they had already sold the note to someone else and they didn’t have it in their possession. What they do is they sell the notes just as they do when you go into prison. They endorse the note and they no longer the holder of the note. The mortgage company wasn’t involved in this process….the attorneys are doing all this. What they are doing is coming to the private side to get the debt without any permission from the mortgage company. IN this case they quoted from the UCC, and it’s from Lex Mercatoria, the Law of the Merchant.

If you read John Hall’s book it talks about letter Rogatory, indictments where you are indicted and brought into the court under a warrant. What the warrant is a demand for payment of debt. What they did under admiralty in the court room is they are demanding payment. You sign a bond to be released until the civil complaint is prosecuted and then they release you under the bond until civil bond is prosecuted. If you didn’t pay the debt they put you in prison until the debt is paid. They use the same terms in this practice book from 1700. This is an actual practice book. It was written by Courts Practice who worked in the Court of Arches for the Crown as a registrant. This is a private book, not meant for public viewing. It laws out the whole practice of admiralty during the American Revolution.

Hall translated this and put it in put it in district court in Maryland in 1809. This was written in 1692. It’s an actual practice. Benedict is not a practice; it gives information about what admiralty is. Admiralty is all debt and it’s all civil; it becomes criminal when the prisoner gets a contempt charge when he refuses to pay. They can keep you in jail until you pay the debt. The initial get out of jail bond releases you until you’ve successfully paid the debt. This book goes into the history and practice of admiralty. It tells how to set the bond, and do court room procedure. The laws haven’t changed; the circumstances of the government have changed so admiralty can be applied instead of constitutional law. Warden comes from admiralty-warden of the sea. The warden is the warehouse man who is warehousing all the goods; he’s the bailee. The commitment order is your bailment, your contract for the commitment of the goods. Then they put the goods in a warehouse and store them there (prisoners stored in prisons, just like the people stored in the pods in the movie, The Matrix).


(a) If the terms of a drawee’s acceptance vary from the terms of the draft as presented, the holder may refuse the acceptance and treat the draft as dishonored. In that case, the drawee may cancel the acceptance.

(b) The terms of a draft are not varied by an acceptance to pay at a particular bank or place in the United States, unless the acceptance states that the draft is to be paid only at that bank or place.

(c) If the holder assents to an acceptance varying the terms of a draft , the obligation of each drawer and indorser that does not expressly assent to the acceptance is discharged.

1) “Acceptor” means a drawee who has accepted a draft.

(2) “Drawee” means a person ordered in a draft to make payment.

(3) “Drawer” means a person who signs or is identified in a draft as a person ordering payment.

(4) [reserved]

(5) “Maker” means a person who signs or is identified in a note as a person undertaking to pay.

(a) “Acceptance” means the drawee’s signed agreement to pay a draft as presented. It must be written on the draft and may consist of the drawee’s signature alone. Acceptance may be made at any time and becomes effective when notification pursuant to instructions is given or the accepted draft is delivered for the purpose of giving rights on the acceptance to any person.

(b) A draft may be accepted although it has not been signed by the drawer , is otherwise incomplete, is overdue, or has been dishonored.

(c) If a draft is payable at a fixed period after sight and the acceptor fails to date the acceptance, the holder may complete the acceptance by supplying a date in good faith.

(a) Except as provided in subsections (c) and (d), “negotiable instrument” means an unconditional promise or order to pay a fixed amount of money, with or without interest or other charges described in the promise or order, if it:

(1) is payable to bearer or to order at the time it is issued or first comes into possession of a holder;

(2) is payable on demand or at a definite time; and

(3) does not state any other undertaking or instruction by the person promising or ordering payment to do any act in addition to the payment of money, but the promise or order may contain (i) an undertaking or power to give, maintain, or protect collateral to secure payment, (ii) an authorization or power to the holder to confess judgment or realize on or dispose of collateral, or (iii) a waiver of the benefit of any law intended for the advantage or protection of an obligor.

(b) “Instrument” means a negotiable instrument.

(c) An order that meets all of the requirements of subsection (a), except paragraph (1), and otherwise falls within the definition of “check” in subsection (f) is a negotiable instrument and acheck.

(d) A promise or order other than a check is not an instrument if, at the time it is issued or first comes into possession of a holder, it contains a conspicuous statement, however expressed, to the effect that the promise or order is not negotiable or is not an instrument governed by this Article.

(e) An instrument is a “note” if it is a promise and is a “draft” if it is an order . If an instrument falls within the definition of both “note” and “draft,” a person entitled to enforce the instrument may treat it as either.


The corporation prefers prison slave labor

From the December 2004 Idaho Observer:

The corporation prefers prison slave labor

“I know my rights!” many non-represented Americans have oft stated over the years when they believe government agents have overstepped their authority. “I know my client’s rights!” say the attorneys of private corporations and the corporate state as the judge instructs the jury to enter a verdict of “guilty.” One of the most alarming trends in America is the growth of the prison labor industry. On the surface it would seem that Americans are a nation of bad apples that keep filling our prisons up—if you were to accept government explanations for the steady increase of criminal convictions that result in prison sentences. But a closer look at the profit motive that drives every corporation shows that prisons are actively marketing their labor pools—the able bodies they manage to place behind bars.

compiled by The Idaho Observer

The first rule of investigation is “follow the money.” This rule especially applies when investigating the activities of corporations because motivations other than money, such as emotions, may compel certain behaviors in people, corporations have only one motive: Profit.

Several researchers concur that the money trail with corporate government begins the moment an order, such as a traffic ticket, a bond or a sentence is entered into the system. At that moment, a dollar value is attached to that person based upon the speculative amount of money the individual represents in the system. A bond is written. That bond is then sold on the open market through brokerage firms such as Merrill Lynch—which reportedly has the contract to sell city, county, state and federal prisoner bonds.

According to Lynne Schmaltz in her article “Profiteering off the prisoners,” a monetary value is placed on the alleged crime and then “factored the way banks factor their money.”

Schmaltz used the figure of $4 million for a certain felony. The city/county/state/federal government from where the alleged crime originated then multiplies it by 10. The bond then goes out on the open market, with the prisoner’s name and SSN attached to it, for $40 million. An investor may offer to pay a percentage of the $40 million with a promissory note to pay the full amount. When the promissory note reaches a bank, the bank multiplies the amount again by 200 or 300 percent and sells the note as a bank security.

Since the mid-90s, the nation has been on a prison and jail-building spree. Billions of dollars are flowing from county, state and federal coffers into jail and prison construction projects to meet the projected demand for beds so prison slave laborers can get needed rest for the next day of work.

California, for example, has built 21 new prisons in the last 20 years; 10 more are now under construction and five more are to be completed in the next decade.

“For those of you who wonder why the U.S. has more people in prison per capita than any other nation on earth, you’ll begin to understand how we can have a weakening economy and still fund wars overseas. It’s all based on prisoners,” Schmaltz explained.

13th Amendment slave labor

It is no secret that major corporations hire impoverished third-world populations to make goods for importation into the U.S. It has also been exposed how China and other nations allow corporations to use prison laborers for production of goods intended for the global marketplace. A few years ago this was a point of frustration for American politicians who were “feeling the pain” of their constituent workers who were finding it impossible to maintain their standard of living and compete with third-world slave labor.

Times have changed. “Outsourcing” has become an accepted fact of contemporary economics and millions of both blue and white collar jobs are simply being performed by third-world laborers.

Prison labor offers domestic relief to corporations which prefer to keep the work here at home. Where regular, tax-paying American workers demand high wages, health benefits and unemployment insurance and have demonstrated a historic tendency to organize, unionize and go on strike, prisoners will either work for whatever wage they decide to pay them or they can sit in their cell.

UCLA sociology student Michael Schwartz recently observed that the use of prison labor in the U.S. is legal per the 13th Amendment. He appears to be correct. The 13th Amendment of the Constitution states, “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States.”

Big business

The U.S. has become the most imprisoned nation in world history with 2.2 million people serving at least one year in a state or federal institution. China, which boasts of having one of the world’s most notoriously intolerant government, holds 500,000 fewer prisoners than the U.S. with four times the population.

The U.S. has also seen a three-fold increase in prison population since 1980.

This is big business.

The Corrections Corporation of America (CCA) is one of the fastest growing companies in America. It contracts with governments to run existing prisons like businesses and is also using public and private capital to build private prisons which are contracted to receive prisoners after conviction and sentencing. It even has a transport division to move prisoners from place to place.

CCA stock is traded on the open market and the Paine-Webber Group investment firm is reportedly the majority stockholder. Those individuals who use Paine-Webber stock brokerage services may be vested in the nation’s for-profit slave-labor prison system.

It is also reported that companies such as WalMart, Exxon, General Motors, Ford, Chevrolet, Texaco, Hewlett-Packard, Verizon, and UPS have stock in CCA.

Paradigm shift

What if the equation were as simple as: Man commits crime, is charged with said crime, indicted for said crime, is convicted by a jury of his peers for having committed said crime, is sentenced and incarcerated for said crime?

The taxpayer pays for keeping the man in prison until he “has paid his debt to society.” Since it would benefit society for the man to become a productive member of it upon his release (as opposed to being more likely to reoffend), society would prefer incarceration to have rehabilitative avenues available to inmates who could achieve early release on good behavior.

However, the equation is more complicated now: Man is charged with a crime, a dollar value is placed on his crime, a bond is issued in his name, marketability of bond depends upon his conviction and sentencing, he is convicted and sentenced, is worth more as a prison laborer than at home providing for family, is refused parole, is kept in prison as a slave laborer producing products for the marketplace at slave wages and forced to work under substandard conditions, is reinforced in his hatred for authority, is prepared for release by being conditioned to reoffend.

The former scenario, the proper way to deal with crime and punishment in a free society, is fair to taxpayers and creates a desire among all but the most incorrigible criminals to pay their debts and get on with their life.

The latter scenario, the one in place now, promotes convictions (guilt or innocence is not a consideration), promotes the ordering of long prison sentences, inhibits rehabilitative measures and ensures the likelihood an inmate will be kept as long as possible and that released inmates will return to the slave labor pool as convicted reoffenders.

Competing on the open market

According to the Wall Street Journal, as of 1999, the clothing and apparel industry alone had lost 8,000 jobs to the federal prison labor system.

At The IO we have received letters from inmates all over the nation who are forced (through various pressure schemes) to work to help pay their fines and other forms of retribution. Their pay scale ranges from 20 cents an hour to $1.45 an hour.

Prison laborers are not just making license plates any more. Below is a partial list of items being produced in prison—at or below the cost of third world slave labor:

aircraft parts
circuit boards

These products are produced under contract for major companies such as Chevron, IBM, Motorola, Compaq, Texas Instruments, Honeywell, Microsoft, Victoria’s Secret and Boeing.

Schwartz stated that, “Federal prisons operate under the trade name Unicor and use their prisoners to make everything from lawn furniture to congressional desks. Their web site proudly displays ‘where the government shops first.'”

As prison populations grow, so too will the numbers of prison slave laborers available for work. The volume and spectrum of products produced for the open market by prisoners at slave wages will certainly increase as well.

This prison labor problem did not just pop up all of a sudden. The following quote from an October, 2004 report from the Progressive Labor Party (PLP) entitled “Prison Labor: U.S. style fascism” is from 1994.

According to the PLP, Oregon State Rep. Kevin Mannix , soliciting Nike, a Beaverton, Oregon-based corporation, to take a closer look at “hiring” a certain group of Oregonians to make Nike products. Citing his belief that Nike subcontractors pay their Indonesian workers the equivalent to $1.20 per day, Mannix said, “We propose that [Nike] take a look at their labor costs. We could offer prison inmate labor right here in Oregon.”

The hiring of prison labor out to commercial enterprisers has become so commonplace that state corrections departments are buying ads in trade publications to promote the attributes of their prison labor pools. Schwartz quoted the following: “Are you experiencing high employee turnover? Worried about the cost of employee benefits? Getting hit by overseas competition? Having trouble motivating your work force? Thinking about expansion space? Then the Washington State Department of Corrections Private Sector Partnerships is for you.”

PLP also reported that prisoners are working nine-hour days at Soledad Sate Prison in Monterey, California, making blue work shirts at 45 cents an hour. The shirts are “…exported for sale in Asia. Even with transportation costs, they can undersell Asian sweatshops,” PLP observed.

Prison labor is also being contracted for telemarketing, construction, firefighting, brush clearing and product packaging.

The self-perpetuating prison population problem

As early as the 70s, stiff prison sentences were being handed down to persons convicted of simple drug possession and President Ronald Reagan signed the mandatory minimum 10-year sentence for federal drug possession convictions in the mid-80s.

The nation’s non-violent prisoner population began to explode.

Mandatory minimum sentences for the full spectrum of violent and non-violent crimes began passing in many states during the 90s. Mandatory minimums, which promote prosecutors’ “stacking” charges and compelling “plea-bargains,” effectively removing judicial discretion from the sentencing phase of a criminal proceeding. Mandatory minimums have dramatically boosted the numbers of non-violent offender convictions that result in prison sentences.

Department of Justice data from 1998 showed that 52.7 percent of state inmates; 73.7 percent of jail inmates and 87.6 percent of federal inmates were non-violent offenders.

The corporation does not care what type of crime resulted in conviction so long as the inmate is capable of putting in a day’s work. As of 1998, the non-violent prison population in America crossed the 1,000,000 mark—a population greater than the combined populations of Wyoming and Alaska.

The future

With some wry humor, it has been estimated that, if present trends continue, the entire nation will be incarcerated by about 2056. At that time, the government will merely have to declare America a prison nation, prevent Americans from entering Canada or Mexico, stop issuing passports and plane tickets and increase Coast Guard shoreline patrols to guarantee corporations access to some 300,000,000 slave laborers.

The comments above may seem like sarcasm, but the truth of 2056 is already more apparent than most realize.

All Americans who work in America, pay their bills, buy products and try to provide a decent home life and educational opportunities for their families are already half enslaved: The average American pays out 53 percent of his earnings in taxes for the privilege of supporting the (dys)functions of government.

The maze of direct and indirect tax structures are levied to support the legions of government agents and agencies who regulate our ability to function in the free market, inhibit our ability to travel and communicate and monitor our every financial transaction.

Most of us have no choice but to inadvertently or unknowingly break several laws between the moment we get up in the morning and the moment we drop off to sleep at night. That being said, in the eyes of the state and the corporations who intend to exploit our energies, we are a nation of criminals who haven’t yet been caught and sentenced for crimes associated with breathing freely without first asking permission.

And what is the philosophical foundation for the land of the free being transformed into a prison nation?

There isn’t one. There is no philosophy, there is no foundation; it’s only profit—profit generated by little men and women hiding behind paper fictions chartered by governments and constructed in such a way that they can reap the worldly benefits of profit without incurring the temporal liabilities associated with enslaving and exploiting an entire nation.

The corporation and America’s future generations

Last January, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimated that one in six American children are being diagnosed as learning disabled or otherwise behaviorally or neurologically impaired. Cathy Trost of the Washington Post recently quoted a qualified source as stating that the rate has increased to one in three.

“It’s so common for a child to be diagnosed with a learning disability, developmental delay or behavioral disorder these days — as many as one in three kids are, say some experts — that the culture has undergone a major shift, from hiding the condition to obsessing about it. I don’t know a family personally who has three kids that one of them hasn’t been diagnosed with a learning disability or ADD,” said Clinical Psychologist William Stixrud.

We know the cause—prenatal and postnatal exposure to mercury and other toxins. But there is no money in prevention. There are, however, billions of dollars to be made in therapy and a lifetime of assisted care for milions of permanently damaged children who will never be able to live alone or maintain gainful employment. So, corporations, with regulatory help from the government, intend to continue damaging our children to pay dividends to their stockholders.

Slavery reinstituted in America


Most of us think of slavery as a degrading, immoral institution that existed in the southern states prior to the Civil War. When we hear about slavery, we think of abducted Africans who were forced to work on the plantations under the watchful eye of a cruel task master. Most of us may be surprised to learn that this nefarious practice has crept back into our “modern, enlightened” society under the full protection of the law.

In the late 1980’s, Warren Berger, then Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court, said in a speech before the American Bar Association that prisons in the U.S. should be turned into “houses of industry” where prisoners are engaged in productive labor. A civil liberties group voiced their objection to the idea which briefly made the newspapers and was then forgotten. It wasn’t forgotten by those who administer and profit from the prison business, however, and since then Justice Berger’s suggestion has been slowly but steadily implemented across the nation.

Any prison warden will affirm the need to keep his charges occupied. Anyone who thinks rationally will tell you that useful work is an essential part of rehabilitation, especially if that work enables someone to “pay their way”, so to speak. Work has traditionally been part of prison life, in one form or another.

The prison work of today, however, has subtly shifted its focus from rehabilitation to profit. In March, 1996, the Florida Department of Corrections hosted a Prison Industry Enhancement (PIE) conference which was attended “by legislative committee staff, Department of Corrections staff, business leaders, representatives from several Chambers of Commerce and other interested stake holders.” Included in the conference statement is the following: “The Commission strongly believes that the old paradigm, a system that looked to the ‘outside’ for funding should be reevaluated. The Commission believes that inmates should be considered as a valuable human resource from which can be provided valuable educational, vocational and work experiences and which can also provide essential funds to defray the cost of incarceration and indirect costs incurred such as welfare for an inmate’s dependents.”

What are the ramifications of this new paradigm mentioned in the PIE statement? Could it indicate a change in the policy of protecting society and rehabilitating the offender, to a policy of profit and forced labor? This new policy might not be considered objectionable to those frightened by burgeoning crime statistics. An iron fist may seem to be the appropriate response until more statistics are considered, facts not trumpeted on the evening news.

The New Prison Industrial Complex

On May 12th, 1994, the Wall Street Journal featured an article entitled, “Making Crime Pay-Triangle of Interest Created Infrastructure To Fight Lawlessness – Cities See Jobs; Politicians Sense a Popular Issue and Business Cash-In – The Cold War of the 90’s.”

Prisons are big business. Due in large to a wave of tough anti-drug laws, the number of state and federal prisoners have more than tripled since 1980. By 1994, more than 1 million people lived in America’s prisons. Another 3.7 million were on probation or parole, and half a million were confined in local county jails. The total comes to more than 5.2 million adults (445 out of 100,000 people in 1992) under some form of correctional supervision. (Bureau of Justice Statistics). This number is greater than the entire population of Wisconsin.

In 1975, the local, state and federal government spent $4 billion on their prison systems. In 1994 that figure had reached $30 billion. In 1990 the U.S. had a greater percentage of its population in prison than its erstwhile enemy– the Soviet Union or Apartheid South Africa.

The state of Texas plans to open one new facility a week for 18 months, and California estimates it will need to open 20 new prisons to keep up with the “three strikes” law. California now spends more on its prison system than it does on its colleges and universities.

U.S. Prisons – The New Sweatshops

As ominous as the incarceration numbers are, they become even more disconcerting when one considers the number of prisoners who are forced to work in factories that have located their operations to the prison environment. Under the guise of giving the prisoner a chance to pay his way, big business is exploiting this captive pool of cheap human labor.

By 1998, prisoners will be turning out over $9 billion worth of products replacing 400,000 jobs from the main work force. Prisoners in Illinois alone are producing over 280 different products.

Some Oregon and California prisons are the home of garment factories. Prisoners are paid the minimum wage, but after federal and state taxes, FICA, the deduction the prison takes for room and board, and a “victim’s compensation” deduction, the prisoner may see $60.00 after a month of nine hour days. If a prisoner refuses to work, he is sent to disciplinary housing, loses canteen and other privileges and even faces solitary confinement. What’s more, the prisoner loses time off for good behavior and faces a longer prison stay.

Federal law prohibits the domestic sale of prison made goods unless the prisoners are paid the prevailing wage, so prison industries export those items abroad, which is permitted under the law. Many of these garments are sold in Asian countries.

It is interesting to note that the U.S. has sharply criticized China for exporting prison made goods. The truth that the U.S. is engaging in the same kind of slave labor may explain why it extended China’s “most favored nation” status.

In an article entitled “Prison Labor: Workin’ For The Man” by Reese Erlich, the warden at the Shanghai, China maximum security jail was quoted as saying that the reason prisoners were used in prison factories was because “we want prisoners to learn a working skill.” He also admitted that prisoners are forced to work, facing solitary confinement if they refuse.

Drug War Increases Black Prison Population

Ironically, black men make up 48 percent of the U.S. prison population, yet only 12.5 percent of the general population is black. The “War on Drugs” has contributed to the already high incarceration rate of blacks, with the strictest sentences being handed out for those arrested for “crack” possession.

In light of the increasing evidence of federal government culpability in the massive influx of crack into South-Central Los Angeles and other major cities, some compelling questions must arise. Is the trend of crime and imprisonment in the U.S. really a war against the poor? Are the proliferation of drugs, as well as the media campaign supporting the “war on drugs”, part of a concerted effort to imprison a segment of the population and force them into slave labor?

Legalized Slavery

The concept of slavery may seem far-fetched until one considers that it is legal and constitutional in the United States. The 13th amendment of the U.S. Constitution abolished involuntary servitude and chattel slavery of Africans, but an exception clause exists for those who have been convicted of a crime. This exemption has been upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court on more than one occasion. Those convicted of a crime can be forced into slavery under the law, and big business is taking advantage of this “human resource”.

Even faster than the growing number of prisoners is the growing number of state and federal prisons that are run by private, for-profit corporations. Enter Wackenhut Corrections Corporation, a global security company that runs prisons for both states and the federal government. One such prison exists outside of Lockhart, Texas. So far, Wackenhut has contracted with three companies who employ prisoners at their Lockhart facility. Leonard Hill relocated his company, Lockhart Technologies, Inc., from Austin to Wackenhut’s prison, and he describes the benefits of prison labor in glowing terms. “‘Normally when you work in the free world’, says Hill, ‘you have people call in sick, they have car problems, they have family problems. We don’t have that here.’ Hill says the state pays for workers’ compensation and medical care. And, he notes, inmates ‘don’t go on vacations'”. (Prison Labor: Workin’ for the Man). Wackenhut doesn’t do too bad either. After the government pays them $31.00 a day per prisoner, they garnish 80 percent of the inmates’ wages for room and board.

Crime Good for Business

There is nothing far-fetched about the existence of the prison industrial complex. Indeed, many of the companies that manufactured arms as part of the military industrial complex are now building prisons and security equipment.

An essential part of the new “Iron Triangle” is the news media that creates the opinions and forms the consciousness of the general public. News services carry sensational stories that create a demand for tougher measures against criminals. In the created environment of fear and anxiety over crime, politicians sense a popular issue and jump to pass”lock ’em up and throw away the key” measures such as “three strikes and you’re out.” An example of politicians making political hay over crime is the way presidential candidates from both parties frequently appear in public with uniformed police officers as a backdrop.

The Wall Street article said, “…according to a new Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll, more than 70% of those surveyed support longer prison terms for violent offenders…. Meanwhile, a recent Justice Department study shows that 21% of all federal prisoners are guilty of low-level, non-violent offenses, such as possession of small quantities of illegal drugs, but are serving lengthy sentences under mandatory minimums set by Congress.” In the hysteria created by high profile violent crimes, laws were passed that determined specific sentences for drug offenses that are generally longer than when the judge was permitted to use his discretion.

Prison – Home for More Americans in New World Order

The old criminal justice paradigm is the model of first protecting the public from the offender, providing a deterrent through punishment, and then providing an environment for the rehabilitation of the offender. This was done at considerable cost, but with the understanding that there would be long- range collateral benefits to society.

As the New World Order stepped into the open and the economies of the world merged into one globalized economy, the paradigm of crime and punishment evolved into a system so cruel and Orwellian as to defy the imagination of most of us. The new criminal justice model is one that maximizes profit for those investing in the prison growth industry, as well as providing a large infrastructure for the confinement of restive populations. Rehabilitation can no longer be considered a genuine goal.

As more crimes are added to the books and more people fail to keep up with the pace of today’s globalized economy, more and more people will end up behind bars, forced into indentured servitude. Jim Gondles, Chairman of the American Correctional Association was quoted in the Dayton Voice article as saying, “We are going to see more citizens interested in jails and prisons. The rate of incarceration is becoming so high that we are going to reach a point where everyone knows someone who is in jail or prison.”

Money has become the governing factor in society, with power the ultimate goal. The institutions such as hospitals and prisons that were once in the public domain and operated for the public good, have become tools for those who would profit from human misery.

This world has become one vast prison house and all of humanity its inmates. How well you perform for the international bankers who profit off of human capital will determine in which part of this multi-leveled prison you may live. If you perform well, you may get a car and a house for which they will deduct a monthly payment. If you need encouragement, they will put you in more confining circumstances and force you to work and give you occasional access to the canteen.

Crime and Punishment – Equal Justice for All

There is no question that the United States is filled with crime and violence. It is true that lawbreaking should be punished. It is also true that those who are in prison are there because of choices that they themselves made.

What many may fail to realize is that all those who have contributed to the social and economic factors that have helped create the “criminal”, and who profit from the imprisonment and enslavement of human chattel, will also pay a very severe penalty.

Anyone whose pension fund or investment portfolio invests in prison construction bonds or who profits, either directly or indirectly, from the operation of prisons for profit, or who profits from the crime paranoia in general, will also be held strictly accountable. The crimes committed by those in prison are small compared to those who are profiting from the crime business.

Few people understand the degrading nature of prison life and the rage that is confined within prison walls. In the coming cataclysm, prison doors will open and society will feel the rage of those they locked up and discarded.

“Shall the prey be taken from the mighty, or the lawful captive delivered? But thus saith the Lord, even the captives of the mighty shall be taken away, and the prey of the terrible shall be delivered.” Isaiah 49:24,25.


Written 12/96


The penalisation of poverty and the rise of neoliberalism



by Loic Wacquant


(Loïc Wacquant

Professor of Sociology, University of California

Researcher, Centre de sociologie européenne, Collège de France)


This article explicates and extends the analyses put forth by the author in his book, Prisons of Poverty, which argues that the generalized increase of carceral populations in advanced societies is due to the growing use of the penal system as an instrument for managing social insecurity and containing the social disorders created at the bottom of the class structure by neoliberal policies of economic deregulation and social-welfare retrenchment. It retraces the steps whereby this “neoliberal penality” was elaborated in the United States and then diffused throughout the world, but contends that European countries are not blindly following the American road to mass imprisonment: Europe’s path to the penal state entails the conjoint intensification of both social and penal treatments of poverty and the activation of the policing functions of welfare services leading to a form of “social panoptism.” Only the building of a Europe-wide social state can check the spread of the penalization of poverty and its deleterious social consequences.

The criminalization of poverty

The criminalization of poverty

by Kaaryn Gustafson,
Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology,  Summer 2009


The word welfare is now commonly used pejoratively–as in “welfare mother” or “welfare queen.” We often hear the word welfare used to describe a bureaucratic mess or to describe economically and socially marginalized populations. Lost in these contemporary understandings of welfare is the association of welfare with wellbeing, particularly collective, economic wellbeing. Many of the current welfare policies and practices are far removed from promoting the actual welfare of low-income parents and their children. The public desire to deter and punish welfare cheating has overwhelmed the will to provide economic security to vulnerable members of society. While welfare use has always borne the stigma of poverty, it now also bears the stigma of criminality. This change in perspective has under-examined implications for both welfare law and criminal law. This Article examines those implications.

Over the last several decades, criminal law enforcement goals, strategies, and perspectives have grown entangled with the welfare system, a putatively benevolent arm of the state. Government welfare policies increasingly treat the poor as a criminal class, and the treatment of low-income women as criminals has occurred at all levels of government–federal, state, and local. The 1996 federal welfare reform legislation required states to implement measures to control welfare fraud. (1) While states have approached the policing of welfare fraud with varying levels of zeal, there is a clear trend toward toughness on welfare recipients who run afoul of regulations or who fail to comply with welfare rules. (2)

Perhaps no state has been tougher on welfare fraud than California. California is one of the most aggressive states not only in investigating and prosecuting welfare fraud cases, but also in welcoming law enforcement into the welfare system. (3) Even before receipt of a first issuance of a grant, an applicant for welfare is reminded of the welfare system’s punitive rules and undergoes state scrutiny otherwise limited to criminal offenders. A welfare recipient has likely signed documents informing her that her welfare grant will be reduced or terminated if she has a boyfriend move in without informing the state, if she fails to vaccinate her children, or if she is convicted of a drug charge. She has probably signed a document stating that any child she conceives and gives birth to while on welfare will be excluded from calculations of household financial need. Her Social Security number has been matched against state and national criminal records to make sure that she is not someone who should be incarcerated, that she does not have an outstanding arrest warrant, and that she has not been convicted of a drug-related crime. The financial information she has provided has been matched against various employment databases, IRS records, and Franchise Tax Board records to see that her lack of income is verifiable. Her personal information has been entered into the welfare system’s database, which may be accessed by law enforcement officers without any basis for suspicion that she has engaged in any wrongdoing. She has been photographed and fingerprinted. And all of this has occurred before she has received a single welfare check.

Particular California counties are especially zealous in policing welfare fraud. San Diego, for example, takes a more proactive approach to welfare cheating than other California counties. In 1997 the County established a program known as Project 100%. (4) Under the program, all individuals who apply for California’s welfare program, known as CalWORKs, are subject to an unannounced home visit by a plain-clothed welfare fraud investigator, who is deputized and employed by the local prosecutor’s office. (5) Home visits occur before benefits are issued, and consist of an interview and a walk-through of the home. Investigators may, and do, look inside closets, bathroom cabinets, laundry baskets, and trash cans during the walkthrough. (6) Welfare applicants are informed that the home visits are designed to verify their eligibility. (7) Anyone who refuses consent for the interview or walk-through will automatically have her welfare application denied. (8) If the home visit and walk-through reveals any evidence of criminal activity, the county investigator may make a referral for criminal investigation. (9)

San Diego County’s practices, some of the most aggressive in the country, are emblematic of the broader trends in both welfare provision and the intermingling of the welfare and criminal justice systems. Nationwide, welfare applicants are treated as presumptive liars, cheaters, and thieves. Low-income families find their lives heavily surveilled and regulated–not only by welfare officials, but also by the criminal justice system. And low-income individuals may not be aware of the complex rules and regulations that take effect when applying for government benefits or of the many ways the government surveilles their actions. Policing the poor and protecting taxpayer dollars from misuse have taken priority over providing for the poor. Regulating the behavior of the poor and deterring fraud are now the objects of political attention and government resources, even when the goals of such regulation are unclear and the methods of deterrence are unevaluated and costly.

Continue reading


Criminalizing race, criminalizing poverty: Welfare fraud enforcement in Canada


Welfare Fraud Enforcement in Canada

Wendy ChanKiran Mirchandani

The criminalization and penalization of poverty through increased surveillance and control of welfare recipients in recent years has led many poverty advocates to claim that “a war against the poor” is currently in progress. The authors argue that people of colour are most often the casualties in the governments’ desire to roll back the welfare state. Relying on myths and stereotypes about racial difference, the enforcement and policing of welfare fraud policies constructs people of colour as potential “cheaters” and “abusers” of the system. This has allowed for the stigmatizing and discriminatory treatment of people of colour to persist unchallenged within the welfare system.


  • SBN: 9781552662502
  • Paperback
  • Price: $17.95 CAD
  • Publication Date: 2007
  • Rights: World
  • Pages: 102


  • Introduction
  • Welfare Fraud Legislation in BC and Ontario 
  • Theoretical and Methodological Framework 
  • Constructing the Problem of Welfare Fraud in the Media 
  • The Effects of Welfare Fraud Enforcement on People of Colour 
  • Racism, Neoliberalism and the Canadian State
  • Conclusion  


Wendy Chan received her BA (Hons) in English Literature and Law from Carleton University, her MA in Socio-legal Studies from the University of Sheffield, her MPhil in Criminology from the University of Cambridge, and her PhD in Criminology from the University of Cambridge. Prior to joining the Department of Sociology and Anthropology in September 2006, she was a member of the School of Criminology at Simon Fraser University (1998 – 2006) and has previously held a tenure-track position in the Department of Sociology at Saint Mary’s University (1996-1998).

Dr. Chan’s doctoral research focused on battered women who killed their abusive spouses in England and Wales. She examined homicide files from 5 regions in England and Wales and argued that women defendants have greater difficulty proving in a court of law that their actions are the result of provocation or self-defence compared to male defendants. Her book, Women, Murder and Justice  is the culmination of this research.

Her current research interests continues to focus on gender, race and class differences in the criminal justice system. She is interested in how the enforcement of welfare and immigration policies in an era of neo-liberalism constructs individuals and groups as criminals and allows for their punitive treatment without much public outcry. The tendency to criminalize marginalized groups in the name of ‘public safety’ has dire consequences for creating a cohesive and inclusive society. Her research projects are concerned with documenting how these processes of criminalization occur in the welfare system and the immigration system, and attempts to give voice to marginalized individuals.

Kiran Mirchandani is associate professor in the Department of Adult Education and Counselling Psychology at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Her research focuses on home-based work, telework, contingent work,entrepreneurship, transnational service work and self-employment.

Criminalization of Poverty in Capitalist America

Criminalization of Poverty in Capitalist America

by Jalil Abdul Muntaquin

The Poor, Welfare and Prisons

An anonymous poet in the 1700’s wrote about crime: “The law will punish a man or woman who steals the goose from the hillside, but lets the greater robber loose who steals the hillside from the goose.”[l]

When talking about “the greater robber” it seemed particularly appropriate in the midst of the biggest financial rip-off in history of this country to think about the billions of dollars the Savings & Loan criminals stole, and about how most of them have gotten away with it. I thought about the complete insanity of how this country defines crimes in society. If you steal $5 you’re a thief, but if you steal $5 million –you’re a financier .

Thirty percent of the wealth of this country is controlled by one-half of one percent of the people. Eighty percent of the wealth is controlled by ten percent of the people. I think that is a crime. In the dictionary, the word “crime” means “an act which is against the law.” Crime applies particularly to an act that breaks a law that has been made for public good. Crime in one country, the dictionary continued, “may be entirely overlooked by the law in another country or may not apply at all in a different historical period.”

That was interesting. What that really said was that concepts of “crime” are not eternal. The very nature of crime is sociopsychological and defined by time and place and those who have the power to make definitions; by those who write dictionaries, so to speak.

The more I thought about that and about those who write the laws, or at least define what law is, the more profound it became. I believe we all will agree that the United States is a nation of criminals. From its inception as a settler nation, exiled British criminals stole the land and lives from Native Americans and Africans. They justified their actions with making and defining the law of the land, for example defining Africans as 3/5 of a man during slavery. Hence the power to define is an awesome power. It is the power of propaganda. It is the ability to manipulate our ideas, to limit our agenda, to mold how we see, and to shape what we look at. It is the power to interpret the picture we see when we look at the world for the American people in general, and New Afrikans, in particular. It is the power to place the picture we see when we look at the world. It is the power to place a frame around the picture, to define where it begins and ends. It is, in fact, the power to define where our vision begins and ends, the power to create our collective consciousness.

That kind of social propaganda is not only tremendously powerful, but it is also mostly invisible. We can’t fight what we don’t see. Most people accept the images and definitions that we have been taught as true, neutral, self-evident, and for always; so that the power to paint the future, to define what is right and wrong, what is lawful and what is criminal, is really the power to win the battle for our minds. And to win it without ever having to fight it. Simply said, it is hard to fight an enemy who has an outpost in our minds. This indicates the need for revolutionary nationalists to develop a national agitationpropaganda mechanism. Specifically, nationalist need a single national publication and organ that represents the unified development of NAIM (The New African Independence Movement) to which each formation and organization contributes and supports its distribution.

The Social Dynamics of Crime

Though some may question, as did Marx, the system’s fairness in applying its rules, today most people don’t question the basis of the system itself. That is, people don’t question the relationship between those who own and those who don’t. Though many people vote every four years on who governs, they never vote on and rarely question what governs. People don’t challenge the legitimacy of the system, they accept it. The exception of course is when the oppressed rebel in insurrections. But usually we don’t step outside of the frame around the picture. We don’t disconnect the dots. Emile Durkheim argued that crime is “normal” and necessary social behavior. “According to Durkheim, the inevitability of crime is linked to the differences (heterogeneity) within a society. Since people are so different from one another and employ such a variety of methods and forms of behavior to meet their needs, it is not surprising that some will resort to criminality. Thus as long as human differences exist, crime is inevitable and one of the fundamental conditions of social life.” [2] In this regard, the conservative view echoes this sentiment in as much as they seek to establish a genetic trait that explains criminal behavior. They argue, “If liberals have trouble with the idea that people’s genes influence their chances of committing crimes, conservatives have trouble with the idea that poverty causes crime. Conservatives do not deny that the poor commit more crimes than the rich. But instead of assuming that poverty causes crime, conservatives usually assume that poverty and crime have a common cause, namely the deficient character or misguided values of the poor.” (Jencks, p. 11) Concomitantly, the neo-liberals are essentially giving credence to the conservative’s position as it pertains to the “underclass.” For instance sociologist, William J. Wilson, purports, “The liberal perspectives on the ghetto underclass has become less persuasive and convincing in public discourse principally because many of those who represent traditional liberal views on social issues have been reluctant to discuss openly or, in some instances, even to acknowledge the sharp increase in social pathologies in ghetto communities.” (Wilson, p. 6) Needless to say, such ideas as genetic traits are the cause of crime set a dangerous precedent. Trying to discern the social pathologies of the underclass harbors views that purport the wholesale contamination of entire communities. However, if one were to advocate that criminal behavior, especially of the poor, is either caused by genetic traits and/or born of social pathologies, then indisputably, it must be espoused that much of America suffers from these same causes.

In the March 12, 1993, issue of the Wall Street Journal an article entitled “Common Criminals –Just About Everyone Violates Some Laws, Even Model Citizens,” byline by Stephen J. Adler and Wade Lambert stated:

We are a nation of lawbreakers. We exaggerate tax-deductible expenses, lie to customs officials, bet on card games and sports events, disregard jury notices, drive while intoxicated –and hire illegal childcare workers.

The last of these was recently the crime of the moment, and Janet Reno wouldn’t have been in the position to be confirmed unanimously as attorney general yesterday if Zoe Baird had obeyed the much-flouted immigration and tax laws. But the crime of the moment could have been something else, and next time probably will be.

This is because nearly all people violate some laws, and many people run afoul of dozens without ever being considered, or considering themselves, criminals.

When we look at downtown urban centers, when we look at the lines of humanity waiting for food or a bed at the missions; if we look at the faces of people living in cardboard boxes on the streets of the cities, we must know that a crime has been committed. When we look at the faces of the dispossessed people, we see faces that look like people who lived in California when it was part of Mexico. In Miami we see faces of people whose great-great-grandparents were abducted and brought here from Africa.

In America, in the l990s, as was the case in England in the 1800s, it is a crime to be poor. The poorer you are, the more criminal you are. If you are so poor that you have no place to live, and you live on the pavement or sleep in a car or in a park, you have committed a crime. It’s against the law to sleep on the streets or in a park. If we have no home, it’s against the law to sleep anywhere. Walter I. Trattner in From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America makes the following observation in opposition to government policies that sought “to dismantle all benefit programs for working-age people except perhaps for unemployment insurance.” (p. 335)

Indeed, others argued that structural changes in the economy and the erosion in anti-poverty programs were the causes of the problem, and that a strengthening, not dismantling, of the welfare state was essential in order to solve it. Such was the theme of Michael Harrington’s The New American Poverty (1984), a depressing sequel pronouncement, “The poor are still there.” They are poor, however, said Harrington, not because of any personal shortcomings or decisions on their part, but because of changes in the international economy , especially the “de-industrialization” of America, and the way in which they have been treated, or mistreated here at home. They are the uprooted and the homeless, products of de-institutionalization, cuts in welfare programs, shortages in low-rent housing, and other social and economic forces over which they have no control; undocumented aliens who have become the new sweatshop laborers; unemployed blue-collar workers victimized by the disappearance of steady and relatively well-paying manufacturing jobs in the “smokestack industries” as a result of technological advances and global competition; white-collar workers who lost their jobs due to reorganization schemes in the name of efficiency, plant closings, or moves to new locations in the so-called Sunbelt; hopeless, uneducated, and untrained young blacks unable to get and hold jobs; families headed by poor, unmarried women; uprooted farmers and farm laborers hurt by the elimination of the subsistence farm and the agricultural depression; and millions of others in unskilled unsteady (and often parttime), low-wage, dead-end benefitless” jobs in the service sector of the economy –cooks in fast food restaurants, dishwashers and chambermaids in hotels and motels, janitors and cleaning women in schools, hospitals, nursing homes, and the like. Harrington and others demand that the government spend billions of dollars on social programs to meet the needs of these “rejects” of society. (p. 336)

When the government fails to be responsible to its citizens and ignores the social dynamics of poverty, people are generally forced to seek illegitimate means to eke out an existence. In this case, it is a question of national oppression, whereby the imperialist government maintains exploitative relationships with New Afrikans, Native Americans, Chicanos, and Asians. Too many of these “rejects” of society are caught in the vicious web of the criminal justice system. But the real criminals are those who create the socioeconomic conditions that perpetuate impoverishment. The real criminal is the colonial government itself. It then becomes necessary to assess the pathology of the capitalist and social policy makers that make crime big business, and deflect culpability of their criminal behavior.

Crime is big Business

The political decisions of the bankers are decisions about who will be poor. Corporate decisions made in the late ’50s to remove industry from communities of color were about who would be unemployed. Decisions by developers and bankers about redevelopment (redlining and gentrification) are decisions about who will be homeless. Such decisions affect everyone, but people have no say in the matter. Generally people, especially the poor, have no say in most social and economic decisions that affect their lives. Somehow that is not part of the democratic method of government, and because people have no say in the process, creating homelessness is not criminal, but being homeless is. Runaway plants and plant closures are legal, but vagrancy is a crime. Trattner says:

Meanwhile the plight of the nation’s hungry and homeless worsened. In November, 1984, in a pastoral letter on “Catholic Social Thinking and the U. S. Economy,” American Roman Catholic bishops had called poverty in America a “social and moral scandal that must not be ignored,” and stated that “works of charity cannot and should not have to substitute for humane public policy. . . . A little more than a year later, the Physicians Task Force on Hunger in America reported on a two-year nationwide study it had conducted and concluded that, despite fifty- eight continuous months of economic expansion, hunger was more widespread and serious than at any time in the fifteen years (affecting some twenty million Americans), largely, in its words, because of “governmental failure”. . . (Trattner, p. 337-8)

Hunger and homelessness are deliberately imposed socioeconomic conditions of the disenfranchised large numbers of the American population. This is especially significant when consideration is given to the method and means by which the malfeasance of the powers that be operate to ensure that such conditions stay the same. Thus such pathology ensures the rich get richer, while the poor get prison and early death.

Max Weber has argued that society is structured to function in a specific way to ensure its existence, that the social structure is subject to the mechanics of government, and that governing is all important above and beyond the immediate needs of the people. “Weber held that social stratification depends on the distribution of three resources: wealth (economic resources), power (political resources), and prestige (social resources). Thus, in our society wealthy business owners often gain power by contributing to political campaigns and earn prestige by making large donations to charity or to the arts. In other cases, however, the three are not linked. For example, in our society an individual acquires less prestige (in most circles) than someone who acquires comparable wealth by legitimate means. Artists, the clergy, and others may enjoy prestige but not wealth. On occasion people with few economic resources and little social prestige –bureaucrats, for instance– exercise considerable power . . . Weber held that because stratification is multidimensional, the formation of groups depends on which interests or identities people choose to emphasize. In capitalist societies, for example, ethnic and national identifications have proved more important than economic or class identification.”[3]

We are able to determine the social and racial implications of certain classes, then, having a vested interest in crime. It can be argued that because an elite class of criminals is in charge, they commit capital crimes, crimes against society and humanity. The jails are overflowing, but that doesn’t seem to help –because the real criminals aren’t in jail. They’re in the board rooms and in the White House. They are the social policy makers that run this country. And today, they are increasing social repression by building more prisons, creating harsher legal sanctions (i.e. 52 death penalty laws, three strikes you’re out), and becoming ever more heedless to the social implications of poverty as an impetus to committing crime.

Under their misleadership, over five million people are homeless, 37 million have no health insurance, 30 million are illiterate, 30 million more are functionally illiterate, one million are incarcerated, and 60 million live in poverty and are struggling day to day. But contrast a tiny fraction of the population controls enormous wealth. The median net worth of the top 1% of households is 22 times greater than the median net worth of the remaining 99% of outstanding stocks and shares. The wealth of the richest 5% of the population increased by 37% from 1977 to 1988. The wealth of the richest 1% increased by 74.2%. At the same time, the number of people in poverty increased by one-third.

In this case crime does pay. The U. S. Justice Department’s Bureau of Justice Statistics announced on July 15, 1990, the federal, state and local governments spent $61 billion for civil and criminal justice in 1988, a 34 percent increase since 1985. Other findings in the report were that federal, state, local governments spent $248 per capita: $114 for police, $78 for corrections, $54 for judicial and legal services, and $2 for other items.

Almost half of the nation’s justice spending was for police protection. Corrections accounted for almost one third of justice costs. Spending for corrections grew the most during that period, by 65 percent. Since 1979 state spending for prison construction increased 593 percent in actual (constant) dollars. That’s some 2.6 times the rate of spending to operate prison facilities. In October of 1988 the nation’s civil and criminal justice system employed 1.6 million persons, and the total October payroll for them was almost $3.7 billion. [4]

Crime is big business in America. Annually the laws are changed to ensure profitability in the industry of crime. Social conditions that serve to maintain levels of poverty, feed the industry of crime, also put stress on the social stratifications of society. Given the fact that America is a nation of criminals as elucidated in the Wall Street Journal article, social conflict is inevitable. It then becomes a matter of identifying the real culprits of crime, and seeking the means to have them become accountable for their criminal behavior. This may very well include the redistribution of their wealth, and the reorganization of the social contract between the government and the governed.

In response to the stratification outlined above, it requires revolutionary nationalist and socialist efforts to formulate a national political agenda and policy that will challenge the prevailing social contract between the oppressed and the oppressor nation. This means revolutionary nationalists and socialists must have a clear and concise mass-line and political program that identifies and explains the nature of poor peoples’ oppression, and how they are to be organized to confront their oppression.


  • Taken from an edited version of a speech by Sabina Virgo, given in L.A. on International Human Rights Day, December 8, 1990.
  • Quoted from the text, Criminology, by Larry Siegel., pg. 40.
  • Quoted from An Introduction to Sociology, by Michael S. Bassis, Richard J. Gelles and Ann Levine, pages 238-239.
  • Justice Expenditure and Employment, 1988 (NCJ-124132).


Hacker, Andrew. Two Nations: Black and White, Separate, Hostile, Unequal, New York: Ballantine Books, 1992.

Jencks, Christopher. Rethinking Social Policy: Race, Poverty and the Underclass, New York: HarperCollins, 1992.

Time Magazine. Lockem Up: Outrage over crime has America talking tough, Feb. 7, 1994.

Trattner, Walter I. From Poor Law to Welfare State: A History of Social Welfare in America, New York: Free Press, 1989.

Reprinted from Schooling the Generations in the Politics of Prisons, edited by Chinosole (Berkeley, CA: New Earth Publications, 1996).

This page is part of the Prison Issues Desk. It is maintained by the Prison Activist Resource Center.

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

Is It Now a Crime to Be Poor?

New York Times, August 9, 2009

IT’S too bad so many people are falling into poverty at a time when it’s almost illegal to be poor. You won’t be arrested for shopping in a Dollar Store, but if you are truly, deeply, in-the-streets poor, you’re well advised not to engage in any of the biological necessities of life — like sitting, sleeping, lying down or loitering. City officials boast that there is nothing discriminatory about the ordinances that afflict the destitute, most of which go back to the dawn of gentrification in the ’80s and ’90s. “If you’re lying on a sidewalk, whether you’re homeless or a millionaire, you’re in violation of the ordinance,” a city attorney in St. Petersburg, Fla., said in June, echoing Anatole France’s immortal observation that “the law, in its majestic equality, forbids the rich as well as the poor to sleep under bridges.”

In defiance of all reason and compassion, the criminalization of poverty has actually been intensifying as the recession generates ever more poverty. So concludes a new study from the National Law Center on Homelessness and Poverty, which found that the number of ordinances against the publicly poor has been rising since 2006, along with ticketing and arrests for more “neutral” infractions like jaywalking, littering or carrying an open container of alcohol.

The report lists America’s 10 “meanest” cities — the largest of which are Honolulu, Los Angeles and San Francisco — but new contestants are springing up every day. The City Council in Grand Junction, Colo., has been considering a ban on begging, and at the end of June, Tempe, Ariz., carried out a four-day crackdown on the indigent. How do you know when someone is indigent? As a Las Vegas statute puts it, “An indigent person is a person whom a reasonable ordinary person would believe to be entitled to apply for or receive” public assistance.

That could be me before the blow-drying and eyeliner, and it’s definitely Al Szekely at any time of day. A grizzled 62-year-old, he inhabits a wheelchair and is often found on G Street in Washington — the city that is ultimately responsible for the bullet he took in the spine in Fu Bai, Vietnam, in 1972. He had been enjoying the luxury of an indoor bed until last December, when the police swept through the shelter in the middle of the night looking for men with outstanding warrants.

It turned out that Mr. Szekely, who is an ordained minister and does not drink, do drugs or curse in front of ladies, did indeed have a warrant — for not appearing in court to face a charge of “criminal trespassing” (for sleeping on a sidewalk in a Washington suburb). So he was dragged out of the shelter and put in jail. “Can you imagine?” asked Eric Sheptock, the homeless advocate (himself a shelter resident) who introduced me to Mr. Szekely. “They arrested a homeless man in a shelter for being homeless.”

The viciousness of the official animus toward the indigent can be breathtaking. A few years ago, a group called Food Not Bombs started handing out free vegan food to hungry people in public parks around the nation. A number of cities, led by Las Vegas, passed ordinances forbidding the sharing of food with the indigent in public places, and several members of the group were arrested. A federal judge just overturned the anti-sharing law in Orlando, Fla., but the city is appealing. And now Middletown, Conn., is cracking down on food sharing.

If poverty tends to criminalize people, it is also true that criminalization inexorably impoverishes them. Scott Lovell, another homeless man I interviewed in Washington, earned his record by committing a significant crime — by participating in the armed robbery of a steakhouse when he was 15. Although Mr. Lovell dresses and speaks more like a summer tourist from Ohio than a felon, his criminal record has made it extremely difficult for him to find a job.

For Al Szekely, the arrest for trespassing meant a further descent down the circles of hell. While in jail, he lost his slot in the shelter and now sleeps outside the Verizon Center sports arena, where the big problem, in addition to the security guards, is mosquitoes. His stick-thin arms are covered with pink crusty sores, which he treats with a regimen of frantic scratching.

For the not-yet-homeless, there are two main paths to criminalization — one involving debt, and the other skin color. Anyone of any color or pre-recession financial status can fall into debt, and although we pride ourselves on the abolition of debtors’ prison, in at least one state, Texas, people who can’t afford to pay their traffic fines may be made to “sit out their tickets” in jail.

Often the path to legal trouble begins when one of your creditors has a court issue a summons for you, which you fail to honor for one reason or another. (Maybe your address has changed or you never received it.) Now you’re in contempt of court. Or suppose you miss a payment and, before you realize it, your car insurance lapses; then you’re stopped for something like a broken headlight. Depending on the state, you may have your car impounded or face a steep fine — again, exposing you to a possible summons. “There’s just no end to it once the cycle starts,” said Robert Solomon of Yale Law School. “It just keeps accelerating.”

By far the most reliable way to be criminalized by poverty is to have the wrong-color skin. Indignation runs high when a celebrity professor encounters racial profiling, but for decades whole communities have been effectively “profiled” for the suspicious combination of being both dark-skinned and poor, thanks to the “broken windows” or “zero tolerance” theory of policing popularized by Rudy Giuliani, when he was mayor of New York City, and his police chief William Bratton.

Flick a cigarette in a heavily patrolled community of color and you’re littering; wear the wrong color T-shirt and you’re displaying gang allegiance. Just strolling around in a dodgy neighborhood can mark you as a potential suspect, according to “Let’s Get Free: A Hip-Hop Theory of Justice,” an eye-opening new book by Paul Butler, a former federal prosecutor in Washington. If you seem at all evasive, which I suppose is like looking “overly anxious” in an airport, Mr. Butler writes, the police “can force you to stop just to investigate why you don’t want to talk to them.” And don’t get grumpy about it or you could be “resisting arrest.”

There’s no minimum age for being sucked into what the Children’s Defense Fund calls “the cradle-to-prison pipeline.” In New York City, a teenager caught in public housing without an ID — say, while visiting a friend or relative — can be charged with criminal trespassing and wind up in juvenile detention, Mishi Faruqee, the director of youth justice programs for the Children’s Defense Fund of New York, told me. In just the past few months, a growing number of cities have taken to ticketing and sometimes handcuffing teenagers found on the streets during school hours.

In Los Angeles, the fine for truancy is $250; in Dallas, it can be as much as $500 — crushing amounts for people living near the poverty level. According to the Los Angeles Bus Riders Union, an advocacy group, 12,000 students were ticketed for truancy in 2008.

Why does the Bus Riders Union care? Because it estimates that 80 percent of the “truants,” especially those who are black or Latino, are merely late for school, thanks to the way that over-filled buses whiz by them without stopping. I met people in Los Angeles who told me they keep their children home if there’s the slightest chance of their being late. It’s an ingenious anti-truancy policy that discourages parents from sending their youngsters to school.

The pattern is to curtail financing for services that might help the poor while ramping up law enforcement: starve school and public transportation budgets, then make truancy illegal. Shut down public housing, then make it a crime to be homeless. Be sure to harass street vendors when there are few other opportunities for employment. The experience of the poor, and especially poor minorities, comes to resemble that of a rat in a cage scrambling to avoid erratically administered electric shocks.

And if you should make the mistake of trying to escape via a brief marijuana-induced high, it’s “gotcha” all over again, because that of course is illegal too. One result is our staggering level of incarceration, the highest in the world. Today the same number of Americans — 2.3 million — reside in prison as in public housing.

Meanwhile, the public housing that remains has become ever more prisonlike, with residents subjected to drug testing and random police sweeps. The safety net, or what’s left of it, has been transformed into a dragnet.

Some of the community organizers I’ve talked to around the country think they know why “zero tolerance” policing has ratcheted up since the recession began. Leonardo Vilchis of the Union de Vecinos, a community organization in Los Angeles, suspects that “poor people have become a source of revenue” for recession-starved cities, and that the police can always find a violation leading to a fine. If so, this is a singularly demented fund-raising strategy. At a Congressional hearing in June, the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers testified about the pervasive “overcriminalization of crimes that are not a risk to public safety,” like sleeping in a cardboard box or jumping turnstiles, which leads to expensively clogged courts and prisons.

A Pew Center study released in March found states spending a record $51.7 billion on corrections, an amount that the center judged, with an excess of moderation, to be “too much.”

But will it be enough — the collision of rising prison populations that we can’t afford and the criminalization of poverty — to force us to break the mad cycle of poverty and punishment? With the number of people in poverty increasing (some estimates suggest it’s up to 45 million to 50 million, from 37 million in 2007) several states are beginning to ease up on the criminalization of poverty — for example, by sending drug offenders to treatment rather than jail, shortening probation and reducing the number of people locked up for technical violations like missed court appointments. But others are tightening the screws: not only increasing the number of “crimes” but also charging prisoners for their room and board — assuring that they’ll be released with potentially criminalizing levels of debt.

Maybe we can’t afford the measures that would begin to alleviate America’s growing poverty — affordable housing, good schools, reliable public transportation and so forth. I would argue otherwise, but for now I’d be content with a consensus that, if we can’t afford to truly help the poor, neither can we afford to go on tormenting them.

Barbara Ehrenreich is the author, most recently, of “This Land Is Their Land: Reports From a Divided Nation.”


Criminalization of Poverty in Canada

Criminalization of Poverty in Canada

by OWJN, July 2008 


What is Poverty?

In Canada, poverty is commonly defined by the low income cut-offs (LICOs) established by Statistics Canada. LICOs represent the poverty line in Canada and “convey the income level at which a family may be in straitened circumstances because it has to spend a greater proportion of its income on necessities rather than the average family of similar size.” The after-tax LICO in 2005 for a single person in an urban area of more than 500,000 people was $17,219, while the line was drawn at $32,556 for a family in the same urban area. In Toronto, nearly one in four households has an income lower than the LICO.

The United Nations Statistics Division similarly defines “poverty line” as “an income level that is considered minimally sufficient to sustain a family in terms of food, housing, clothing, medical needs, and so on.” The United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights provides a broader definition of poverty: “a human condition characterized by the sustained or chronic deprivation of the resources, capabilities, choices, security and power necessary for the enjoyment of an adequate standard of living and other civil, cultural, economic, political and social rights.” Furthermore, “economic deprivation – lack of income – is a standard feature of most definitions of poverty. But this in itself does not take account of the myriad of social, cultural and political aspects of the phenomenon. Poverty is not only deprivation of economic or material resources but a violation of human dignity too.”

From the above definitions of poverty, it is clear that poverty is pervasive and difficult to escape. Poverty affects every element of a person’s life by restricting their choices and chances. Poverty can mean anything from having a daily struggle to pay the bills, to being unable to afford to feed yourself or your family, to being homeless. Living in poverty may also include receiving social assistance. The Canadian Council on Social Development suggests that most people at or below the LICO are on some type of social assistance and notes that “low-paying and precarious jobs, particularly part-time jobs, just do not provide enough income to replace even low social assistance benefits.” Poverty and homelessness are more than mere economic problems ‚Äì they are social problems created and maintained by social, economic and political systems.

Poverty as a Social Problem

Canada has an individualistic culture that promotes the idea that individuals who work hard advance. This cultural idea is reinforced by the myth that people deserve their lot in life; the myth that the poor deserve to be poor and that the rich deserve to be rich. To compound the problems that poor individuals and families face, the Canadian Council on Social Development states that there is growing public indifference to the needs of the very poor and marginalized, in addition to a toxic “punish the poor” mentality. Social myths affect individuals, and they also affect society. These widely accepted myths inform social policy and lead to political inaction on issues of poverty. Poverty is a social problem that persists due to the social, political and economic culture.

Criminalization of Poverty and Homelessness

Recently in Canada there has been a rise in poverty and homelessness, particularly in large urban centers like Toronto, where the disparities between the rich and the poor are ever increasing. One of the ways that the government has attempted to deal with poverty, including homelessness, has been to criminalize it.

The criminalization of poverty involves declaring certain acts that are more likely to be committed by poor or homeless people, such as begging and being in public places, a crime. “Living without a home is considered a crime. Sleeping outside or in a car is illegal, soliciting work or conducting unrecognized work on land that you don’t own or pay for is increasingly criminalized and more and more poor workers, homeless people, welfare recipients, undocumented workers and youth in our country face police harassment, abuse and even incarceration for living in poverty” (United States Social Forum). Declaring these things to be crimes places additional burdens on people living in poverty. It also promotes social exclusion and fails to address the root causes of poverty and homelessness.

One example of the criminalization of poverty in Ontario is the so-called “squeegee law” called the Safe Streets Act. Under this law, it is illegal to solicit in an “aggressive manner.” “Aggressive manner” means a manner that is likely to cause a reasonable person to be concerned for his or her safety or security.” The law effectively targets homeless youth who engage in “squeegeeing” to survive. It also captures other homeless people, including the elderly, who ask for money in an “aggressive manner.”

The criminalization of poor and homeless peoples’ behaviour ignores the social realities of poverty. It fails to take into account the circumstances of people’s lives. Bill O’Grady and Robert Bright suggested that for poor and homeless youth, cleaning car windows was a rational response to the circumstances they faced on the streets. In contrast, law-makers characterized the act of squeegeeing as a nuisance and an annoyance.

In a recent Court of Appeal for Ontario decision, Justice Juriansz, for the court, upheld the law as just and constitutional. David Banks and others were convicted of panhandling offences under the Safe Streets Act and Highway Traffic Act. Banks and the other accused admitted that “by squeegeeing on various Toronto roads and soliciting money from cars stopped at red lights, they had committed an offence.” Nonetheless, they asked the court to set aside their convictions, arguing that the legislation was unconstitutional. They claimed that the law was unconstitutional because it infringed on rights and freedoms guaranteed in the Charter, including the right to life, liberty and security, the right to equality, and the right to the freedom of expression.

The court did not agree. Justice Juriansz reasoned that the right to life, liberty and security was not infringed because Banks and the others could have solicited money in other ways that were not prohibited by law. In addition, Justice Juriansz did not find that the appellants were discriminated against, and he found that they had alternative means to express their message.

The court’s decision reinforces the belief that the poor are agents of their own misfortune and fails to address the systemic factors that deny and limit the choices that are available to people living in poverty.

Poverty and Women (and Children)

In 2003, 1.5 million adult Canadian women were living in poverty. Women experience poverty at higher rates than men. Men receive more income than women from all sources, including wages and salaries, investment, retirement, and other income. Single mothers have the most unstable earnings and are among the most impoverished people in Canada. There are several reasons why women (and children) live in poverty:

Discrimination against women in gaining access to paid work and a fair income.

Sex-role stereotypes about women’s involvement in paid work – women account for 70% of all part-time employees and two-thirds of women are employed within traditionally women-dominated occupations.

A change in family composition, such as a divorce, greatly increases a woman’s chance of entering poverty.

Intersectionality: Aboriginal women, racialized women, disabled women and queer women are more likely to live in poverty than white women, able-bodied women and heterosexual women.

In Canada, women are at greater risk of poverty than men because of their gender. Social constructions of gender ‚Äì ideas about what it means to be a woman – also contribute to women’s poverty. Because of stereotypes about women’s nature and their ability and desire to act as caregivers, women are disproportionately responsible for unpaid caregiving labour, for example looking after children or aging or ill family members. Women are frequently dependent on men for financial support, which makes them vulnerable to exploitation and to poverty if the relationship with the man breaks down.

Criminalization of Women

Just as poverty and homelessness are generally criminalized through anti-begging laws and restrictions on public spaces, impoverished women are specifically criminalized as poor women.

Women who live in poverty are often charged with property offences and are criminalized for activities they regard as necessary for their economic survival, including sex work. About 70% of prostitutes are mothers, “mostly single mothers struggling to support families” (Street Sheet). Faced with difficult economic choices and “the evisceration of health, education and social services,” (DisAbled Women’s Network Ontario) women living in poverty may become entangled in the criminal justice system.

Poverty does not necessarily lead to crime, but “poverty is woven into the fabric of these women’s lives, reducing their options, crippling their morale, and rendering them outsiders” (Review of Women, Crime and Poverty). Further, “[w]ith women’s wages still pitched at less than 76% of men’s, most jobs available to women go nowhere near covering the costs of survival. Welfare ‘reform’ has destroyed the safety net which saved many from destitution — over 11 million mainly women-headed families have lost their sole income” (Street Sheet).


Discrimination against poor women threatens women’s ability to provide for themselves and to make choices that promote economic security. The criminalization of poverty limits women’s choices even more and makes them vulnerable to abuse, extreme poverty and homelessness. C. Lochead and K. Scott suggest that “[t]he solution to women’s poverty may lie in providing a range of options that afford women a choice over their lives…Alleviating women’s poverty is ultimately about giving women choice: the choice to pursue paid labour, the choice to care for others or even follow other personal interests without sacrificing their own well-being or the well-being of their families.” The criminalization of poverty does the opposite of what Kochead and Scott recommend ‚Äì further constricting women’s choices and penalizing them for their lack of privilege and social location.



Canadian Council on Social Development, “A Community Growing Apart: Income Gaps and Changing Needs in the City of Toronto in the 1990s” (October 2001), available online at <>.

C. Lochead and K. Scott, The Dynamics of Women’s Poverty in Canada (Canadian Council on Social Development, March 2000).

DAWN DisAbled Women’s Network Ontario, “Prisons as Panacea,” available online at <>.

Elizabeth Fry Society, “Issues Associated with Increased Criminalization of Women,” available online at <>.

Mayor’s Homelessness Action Task Force. Taking Responsibility for Homelessness: An Action Plan for Toronto, (Toronto: Municipality of Toronto, 1999).

Review of Women, Crime, and Poverty by Pat Carlen, Journal of Law and Society, Vol. 16, No. 4 (Winter, 1989), pp.521-524.

Safe Streets Act 1999, S.O. 1999, c. 8.

Statistics Canada, Income in Canada 2005, “Notes and Definitions,” available online at <>.

Statistics Canada, Income in Canada 2005, “Table 14.1 Low income after tax cut-offs 2001-2005,” available online at <>.

Street Sheet (San Fransico) June 2005, p. 7, “The Criminalization of Survival: Poverty, Violence and Prostitution,” available online at <>.

The Court, “Banks: The Criminalization of Povert?” available online at <>.

United Nations Statistics Division, available online at <>.

United Nations High Commissioner of Human Rights, Human Rights in Development, “What is Poverty?” available online at <>.

United States Social Forum, “Criminalization of Poverty,” available online at <https://www.ussf2007/org/en/node/1363>.