My Turn: Poverty and the criminal justice system

Posted: Friday, March 25, 2011

When we look at social issues and all of their complexity, many us find cold comfort in just dealing with figures.

In this case — the issue of poverty — we talk about the federal poverty level, where we use percentages and numbers, such as going to above the 150 percent level, and the 200 percent or the 300 percent levels.

These percentages either do or do not qualify people for food stamps, free lunches, subsidized housing, Denali kid care, Medicaid, and so forth.

But who are these people? What does it mean for family to be, at say 200 percent of the poverty level? How does it affect the food budget and transportation? How do the children feel about it and how do they feel it?

This newspaper has published previous submissions on poverty and youth homelessness, poverty and child maltreatment, poverty and single parents, and on poverty and seniors.

The Juneau Unitarian Universalists Fellowship is presenting its fifth of six public forums on poverty.

On April 3, our topic is poverty and its relationship to the criminal justice system.

Question: If the offender has access to funds, and can hire a top notch lawyer, does that influence the outcome of his/her trial? If a prisoner does her/his time and is released and has little to no funds to aid in the transition like finding an apartment, finding transportation, and finding food and clothing, how does that increase his/her possibility of making a u-turn shortly after release and going back to prison? Does poverty influence the recidivism rate?

Since we of the tax paying public get 30 cents back for every dollar we invest in putting people behind bars, it is time to ask these questions?

Our forum on the relation between poverty and the criminal justice system is open to the public, Sunday, April 3.

To discuss and answer questions, we have a panel of individuals intimately acquainted with the justice system, including a family member, a probation officer, a released and transitioning inmate, and a trial judge.

Please join us, Sunday, April 3 at 10 a.m., at the Temple Sukkat Shalom, on the corner of Cordova and Foster in Douglas.

• Doll is a Juneau resident.

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