Sunday, June 03, 2018

Punishing and imprisoning the poor

Philip Alston, UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty, a veteran UN rights expert and New York University law professor, will present his report to the UN Human Rights Council later this month. Alston calls on the US to address the underlying problems facing the underclass rather than "punishing and imprisoning the poor." He said the Trump administration appears determined to pull the social safety net out from under millions of poor people while rewarding the wealthy with tax cuts. He noted that welfare benefits are being slashed and access to health care has become more difficult during Trump's presidency. This, in conjunction with "financial windfalls" for the super-rich and big corporations, has accelerated inequality.

"The policies pursued over the past year seem deliberately designed to remove basic protections from the poorest, punish those who are not in employment and make even basic health care into a privilege to be earned rather than a right of citizenship," he said. In a country of about 325 million people, nearly 41 million live in poverty — including 18.5 million in extreme poverty. Alston said children accounted for 33 percent of the poor. No other industrialized country had so many children mired in poverty, he said.

Alston cited "shameful statistics" linked to entrenched racial discrimination. He said African Americans are 2.5 times more likely than whites to live in poverty and their unemployment rate is more than twice as high. Women, Hispanics, immigrants and American Indians also suffer disproportionately high rates of poverty and unemployment.

He criticized the criminal justice system, noting that it sets large bail bonds for a defendant seeking to go free pending trial. This means wealthy suspects can afford bail while the poor remain in custody and often lose their jobs as a result, even if they are ultimately acquitted.

 "At the end of the day, however, particularly in a rich country like the United States, the persistence of extreme poverty is a political choice made by those in power."

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