Problems With Mass Incarceration: Poverty and Marginalization

The poor are being targeted

Lack of Education

Most minority communities, and families under the poverty line cannot afford any sort of higher education for their children, and a majority of these families make income in service jobs that do not need diplomas, in family run businesses, or labor jobs. Kids in poverty are less likely to be able to focus on their education, and have a harder time adjusting to teaching. This means they fall behind. In fact, by the fourth grade, these kids are on average, 2 years behind in grade knowledge, and by grade 12, 4 years behind. As well, in average low incomes kids age 16–24 are 7 times more likely to drop out from school in order to join the workforce or help their families in comparison to higher income families. [4] Without any sort of education, the highest income jobs become out of reach for generations of young people. Contributing to the poverty cycle.

Lack of Opportunity

Like we discussed in the previous section, many people in low-income families cannot afford to get to college or have any sort of educational opportunities. What’s more is that because of a lack of financial capital, more minority business fail than not. According to NBC News, 8/10 of black owned businesses fail within the first 18 months* [5]

How Do These factors Affect Incarceration?


Substance Abuse

In low-income communities, as well as for those who are homeless, substance abuse is rampant. In fact The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration reports that nearly 40 percent of homeless Americans struggle with alcohol addiction and over 25 percent struggle with some other kind of substance use disorder. [11] In low-income communities, drug use is not uncommon either, as it can be sold for high profits, even in places where money does not come by easy. This addiction is an easy way for police to reach their quotas, and less than 20% of inmates with drug abuse or dependence receive formal treatment in prison. [12]

Easy Targeting of Margenilized Communities

Because of lack of economic empowerment, and higher crime rates, many low-income communities are marginalized by the police, and do not trust police forces. This distrust between the law and people, can result in police brutality towards innocent victims, or higher crime rates from these communities, as their distrust for the police grows. This feeling of lack of security, can lead to gangs, and violence.

Pre-Trial Incarceration, And High Bails

There are about 600,000 people across the United States, being detained in local jails. A majority of these, about 70%, are pretrial. [13]These people have not been tried for the crime they may or may not have committed, but by law are still innocent. So what about innocent until proven guilty? This only applies to those who can pay the bails (which range from 5 thousand, to upwards of 20,000). As discussed previously, those with low to no income (minority/marginalized suspects who are more targeted) make little to no income, and therefore cannot post bail, and maybe detained in a pretrial detention centre up to 6 months. [14]

What Needs to Change?

The Culture

In marginalized communities this hate towards the system needs to be dismantled. More systems to create positive relations between youth in these communities and police need to be set in place. As well, creating role models for youth will be the only way for these kids to want to be more than a labor worker, a server, or a criminal.


Creating better education opportunities, programs and scholarships for kids in marginalized communities can keep them away from crime, and out of the poverty cycle. Being able to make money off skills, knowledge or just a high school diploma, drastically reduces the need for the young to engage in illegal crimes, like stealing, fraud, and assault. [15]

Economic Empowerment

There needs to be more emphasis on empowering the people that are being targeted in a flawed policing system, vs just defunding the entire system. The idea that marginalized do not have more crime than economically empowered, more ‘accepted’ communities is utterly untrue. [16] This crime does exist, but it is caused by low opportunity and not many other options for many. By empowering low-income communities, we can bring many marginalized groups out of situations where crime is the first option.

Racial Bias

Racial bias in cops must also change. While statistically there is more concentration of crime in low-income communities, associating crime with race is utterly wrong. What’s more, if the police continue to target racial groups or socioeconomic groups, they face only more distrust and retaliation.


While the police system and policing does have flaws, we need to focus our attention on those who are being targeted by the police, and rewrite stereotypes that exist. Fixing the mass incarceration problem will not be a straight forward solution but layers of dismantling, rebuilding, and understanding.

Before you go

I’m Saras, an aspiring innovator, who loves to explore and learn. Student at The Knowledge Society. Science & Tech & Ethics & Philosophy. I also post semi-weekly. Ish. Consider subscribing?


[1]Lee, Michelle. “Does the United States Really Have 5 Percent of the World’s Population and One Quarter of the World’s Prisoners?” Washington Post, The Washington Post, 30 Apr. 2015,



Currently working in the BCI startup space. Learning, Exploring, Creating, Teaching.

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Saras Agrawal

Currently working in the BCI startup space. Learning, Exploring, Creating, Teaching.