We partnered with the Institute for Policy Studies’ Economic Hardship Reporting Project, self-described as “Guided by award-winning journalists Barbara Ehrenreich and Alissa Quart, the Economic Hardship Reporting Project is changing the national conversation around both poverty and economic insecurity. Our stories – from narrative features to photo essays and video – put a human face on financial instability.”    Our goal in reaching out to IPS was to inspire a “lay of the land” research report on the intersection of poverty and law. The result is their landmark report, The Poor Get Prison: The Alarming Spread of the Criminalization of Poverty” with a Foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich.  The Institute for Policy Studies released their report on March 19, 2015 and they’ve asked us to share it widely, and once you read it, we know you will find it compelling as well. The full report is here  Excerpt:

Poor people, especially people of color, face a far greater risk of being fined, arrested, and even incarcerated for minor offenses than other Americans. A broken taillight, an unpaid parking ticket, a minor drug offense, sitting on a sidewalk, or sleeping in a park can all result in jail time. In this report, we seek to understand the multi-faceted, growing phenomenon of the “criminalization of poverty.”  In many ways, this phenomenon is not new: The introduction of public assistance programs gave rise to prejudices against beneficiaries and to systemic efforts to obstruct access to the assistance. This form of criminalizing poverty — racial profiling or the targeting of poor black and Latina single mothers trying to access public assistance — is a relatively familiar reality. Less well-known known are the new and growing trends which increase this criminalization of being poor that affect or will affect hundreds of millions of Americans. These troubling trends are eliminating their chances to get out of poverty and access resources that make a safe and decent life possible. In this report we will summarize these realities, filling out the true breadth and depth of this national crisis.

Our Process with this Project

We followed our Seven Pillar methodology: vision, nonduplication, special skills, partnership, credit-sharing, feedback, and staying power. To help realize our vision for a more hope-filled domestic landscape, we felt it important to have good information about the state of the nation as a whole, as regards the poorest and most unequal.  We chose to work in partnership with investigative journalists who had the special skills to ferret out information and gather it together holistically in a compelling way.

This reports brings together various elements that contribute to the growing phenomenon of criminalizing poor people come together in one cohesive whole, and we were gratified when Karen Dolan, our main contact at IPS, wrote us that without our impetus, she never would have taken on such a broad topic, but is very glad that they did.

Identify Chasm

In our research, we noticed a chasm – a gap – that needed addressing.  Some compelling stories that had been raised by comedians had not been studied in an overarching way.  This was the chasm we identified.  Barbara Ehrenreich – the award-winning journalist who heads the Economic Hardship Reporting Project at the Institute for Policy Studies, seemed a perfect partner. And so, the project discussions began.

Create Change

Together, we discussed and agreed upon key elements to be examined. A proposal was taken to the trustees for approval. The trustees approved the project and the research began at IPS. We kept in close contact, as the year progressed.  Because of the events surrounding Ferguson, the joint decision was to delay the report in order to address issues raised, and give it a national lens.  The timing couldn’t be better, and we feel it will surely create ripples of lasting, positive change.

Amplify Success

When folks start participating, we’ll start sharing the news through social media. You can help amplify the success of this project, by adding to the song, and by suggesting that others join in, as well. Karen Dolan of IPS writes that “The report really is being received enthusiastically. The NAACP is spreading it around, Danny Glover tweeted it to his million and a half followers, it’s getting widely shared on Facebook, the Annie E Casey Foundation sent it to 800 affiliates in all the 50 states…! ”

Please join us in our efforts to disseminate this important research.   IPS Suggests the Following Sample tweets (to which we’ve added our hashtag):

  • Poor people are criminalized for non-criminal activity.
  • New @IPS_DC report: The Poor Get Prison http://bit.ly/1FJzUGB #BlackLivesMatter #elfenworks Poverty is becoming a crime in America. Read how and why in NEW @IPS_DC report: “The Poor Get Prison”  http://bit.ly/1FJzUGB #talkpoverty  #elfenworks #Ferguson IS America.
  • New report details the increasing criminalization of the poor: The Poor Get Prison” http://bit.ly/1FJzUGB #BlackLivesMatter #elfenworks
  • NEW Report:”The Poor Get Prison,” foreword by Barbara Ehrenreich. It’s now a crime to be poor in America http://bit.ly/1FJzUGB #P2 #elfenworks


Why not take a moment to read the report, then pass it along. You’ll be glad you did.  And, as we always say…
Never underestimate your power to make a ripple!

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