“The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”

The statement that “law’s repressive coercive functions are obscured by its ideological functions that portray it as equal , universal and just,” means that the law is not really equal, universal and just, it is just portrayed as such to society. In reality, law operates on behalf of the power holders in society. The system of law is focused away from elites (major corporations and top government officials) and on street level crime and poor crimes. Furthermore, most research and theories in the criminal justice field focus on street crime, and most policing targets street crime and poor crime. As well, the disparity between the rich and poor is growing, with an increasingly smaller number of Canadians controlling much of the country’s wealth.
Marx argues that class struggle is central to the movement of history and that the working classes are the agents of social change (Pavlich, 2011). Marx states that classes are the product of, and defined through, relations to the mode of production (Pavlich, 2011). The capitalist class are the owners of machines, land, buildings and raw material which are used in the production of goods, which are sold in the market: “capitalists control the production of commodities and benefit from their sale. By contrast, workers have access only to their labour power, which they sell to owners in exchange for a wage”(Hogeveen, 2011, p.193).
An example of the disparity between the rich and poor is in the quality of space. Whereas the poor are often found in inner-cities that are older, crowded, often abandoned and over-policed, and set aside for the impoverished – including the mentally ill, the criminal, and the drug addicted – the sprawling suburbs complete with beautiful, well-kept properties and green spaces are enjoyed by the rich (Hogeveen, 2011). Harvey (1989) and Lefebvre claim that the history of capitalism is the history of a struggle for command of space: “the whole history of territorial organization, colonialism and imperialism, of uneven development, of urban and rural contradictions, as well as of geopolitical conflict testifies to the importance of such struggles within the history of capitalism” (Hogeveen, 2011, p.194).
A contemporary example is the federal Conservative Party’s commitment to be even tougher on crime, with mandatory minimum sentencing being the center-fold for the model. The plan holds that offenders convicted of a series of crimes would be sentenced to custody. The main issue with this is that research has failed to demonstrate the overall effectiveness of mandatory minimums in protecting the public, deterring crime, or rehabilitating offenders (Hogeveen, 2011). Furthermore, the target for these tougher and more intrusive measures are the poor and marginalized groups and they will be hit the hardest. Clearly, these law and order policies “locate their logic and justification in the poor and marginalized, who are subjected to exceedingly harsh punishment” (Hogeveen, 2011, p 192).
Overall, governments have undertaken a profound strategy of implementing harsh controls over the working class and street-level crime, and have not yet introduced similar levels of control over the rich and powerful. Now more than ever, the rich are getting richer, while the poor are getting sent to prison (Reiman, 1979).

References:
Hogeveen, Bryan. (2011). Zombies in Bel Air: Class and Marginalization in Canada. In P. Barbara (Ed.), Diversity, Crime, And Justice In Canada (p. 187-205). Dons Mills Ontario: Oxford University Press.

Pavlich, G. (2011). Law & Society Redefined. Don Mills, Ontario: Oxford University Press.
Reiman J. (1979). The rich get richer and the poor get prison: Ideology, Class and Criminal Justice. New York: Wiley.

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1 Comment

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One response to ““The rich get richer and the poor get poorer”

  1. Great opening paragraph. Excellent use of additional resources. Harvey’s work on accumulation by dispossession in advanced capitalist economies is required reading, from my perspective.
    Your description of the ineffectiveness of mandatory minimums is correct, and you do a good job of pointing out the disproportionate impact of this sort of policy on members of the lower classes. However, the connection between your analysis and Marx’s ideas regarding the ideological function of law could use some clarification. How does the imposition of mandatory minimums reflect the statement that “law’s repressive coercive functions are obscured by its ideological functions that portray it as equal , universal and just”?