Transition: Policing the Poor

This video explanation is intended to link our unit on race/mass incarceration to our unit on social class. Look at the questions listed below before watching the video in order to focus your written responses afterward.

Mark Jay, a sociologist at UC Santa Barbara examines how mass incarceration and police violence overwhelmingly target poor people, regardless of race. Given the direct correlation between incarcerated individuals and those most affected by poverty and inequality, he suggests that providing resources, especially for those suffering from mental health issues, would substantially reduce those numbers.

  1. How does the design of outdoor benches discriminate against poor/destitute people?
  2. As a consequence of mass incarceration, how many Americans are "currently branded with a criminal record"? Did you find this statistic shocking? Why or why not?
  3. According to President Ronald Reagan, what causes crime? What role does society play? Do you agree? Why or why not?
  4. What are the two leading causes of crime, according to the World Bank?
  5. President Lyndon Johnson waged an unsuccessful "War on Poverty", but President Richard Nixon (his successor) changed that to a "War on Crime", or to a "law and order" philosophy. Why, according to Jay?
  6. What does Mark Jay say is the "American Dream Mythology" regarding if someone is poor or criminal?
  7. How much does the US military spend compared to other countries? How is this an example of an "opportunity cost"?
  8. A decade ago, 70% of incarcerated individuals came from families living under half of the federal poverty line ($13,000 for a family of four). How is this an example of "punishing the poor"?
  9. What is "defunding the police"? How does University of Illinois - Chicago professor Cedric Johnson reframe the issue? Do you agree with him? Why or why not?
  10. Mark Jay argues that in American society, “[w]e don’t really try to end poverty, we just come up with newer and crueler ways of punishing the poor.” Agree or disagree? Explain, using evidence.