Last Tuesday, I took part in the second Swipe It Forward protest action, organized by Bob Gangi and others of PROP (Police Reform Organizing Project), together with fellow activists, to protest harmful and discriminatory policing.
In 2015, the NYPD made 29,198 arrest – 92 percent involving people of colour – for ‘theft of services’ or ‘farebeating’. In simple words: people did not pay for a ticket to use the subway but jumped the turnstile instead or asked fellow passengers for a swipe (‘begging’). People also get fined or arrested for ‘obstructing the entrance’ while asking for a swipe.
“Isn’t that against the rules, to jump the turnstile?”, a woman asked me, while I was handing out fliers with information about the protest at the Crown Heights-Utica Avenue station in Brooklyn. Well, yes, in principle everybody should pay for a ride. But should people get arrested for not paying 2.75 dollar, and spend a day in jail and miss work or school? And if people cannot afford to pay for transport, how will they be able to pay the fine (100 dollar or more) and fees?
In the previous blog post I discussed several arguments put forward by legal scholar Sonja Starr against including socioeconomic factors such as unemployment, low or lack of education, and homelessness in risk assessment instruments used for informing sentencing decisions.
Here is another argument, put forward by legal scholar Michael Tonry in an article titled ‘Legal and Ethical Issues in the Prediction of Recidivism’:
Tonry reiterates widely supported normative and ethical rules such as ‘don’t treat people differently based on the basis of social class’, that are ‘largely incompatible’ with sorting people into risk categories. Tonry describes how, in the US, in the 1970s federal parole guidelines initially allowed variables such as employment, education, residential status and family characteristics, but that these factors were gradually abandoned because ‘they are heavily correlated with race’. The 1991 parole guidelines do not include education, employment or family characteristics.
I have written several times about risk assessment of individual defendants and offenders and the role of socioeconomic factors such as employment, educational level, income, financial situation and housing. Risk assessment is used by criminal justice agencies – in the US, UK, Canada and the Netherlands, as well as other countries – to inform decisions about bail, pre-trial detention, sentencing, probation, parole, treatment, and/or supervision.
For example, a widely used tool called LSI-R and a tool that is used in New York State called COMPAS take into account the following individual factors (mentioned in Starr 2014, see below):
- Performance at work
- Housing stability
- Neighbourhood crime rates
- Dependence on social assistance
- High school grades
- Chances of finding work above minimum wage
It seems that many feel Ethan Couch – the teen who killed four people while drunk driving – will finally get what he deserves, after he recently violated the terms of his probation and fled to Mexico. Justice, finally! But can we really speak of justice, when young people, even if they do commit a horrendous crime, are locked up for a decade?
It is absolutely clear that Couch cannot get away with what he did. But is 10 years of probation and mandatory treatment for alcohol and drug abuse – his sentence in 2014 – equal to ‘getting away’ with a crime? Are we willing to imagine that being under supervision until one is 26 years old, with the threat of imprisonment hanging above one’s head, will actually inflict pain and thus be experienced as a severe punishment, especially for a teen or young adult? Are we willing to take a step back and think about what would be an sensible approach to the crime committed by Couch?
* You can read this post in English here: Letting offenders pay, part 2
De regering besloot onlangs het voorstel voor een eigen bijdrage aan de kosten van detentie, te betalen door gedetineerden, te schrappen. Dat is goed nieuws, niet per se omdat het een slecht idee is dat mensen verantwoordelijk worden gehouden voor hun criminele daden, maar wel om verschillende andere redenen, waaronder het feit dat zo’n eigen bijdrage mensen met een laag inkomen harder raakt dan mensen met een hoog inkomen. Anders gezegd: het verplichten tot een eigen financiële bijdrage zal leiden tot klassenjustitie, omdat mensen met een laag inkomen in feite een extra straf wordt opgelegd, terwijl mensen met een hoger of hoog inkomen het bedrag zonder al te grote consequenties zullen kunnen betalen.
Gevolgen voor sociale positie