Punishment That Doesn't Fit the Crime: Stories of People Living on the Margins

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This report examines stories of marginalized individuals in relation to criminal justice systems over the course of their lives—in being stopped, searched, arrested, fined, jailed or incarcerated for low level offenses. These stories unmask the cumulative impact that criminal justice involvement, coupled with economic and racial inequalities, has on the life trajectories, happiness, and quality of life of marginalized individuals, their families and communities.

Through these stories, the static and ineffective roles of many system actors became clear. Our jails and prisons have become the sole response to a myriad of system failures, including miscarriages in mental health treatment, racial and economic inequality, education, child and family welfare support, community infrastructure, housing and employment opportunities. A complex web of interrelated social failures and ills cannot be effectively cured by simply increasing the reach of police, sanctions, criminal courts, jails, and prisons over the lives of American citizens.

As inequalities in the justice system are invisible, cumulative, inter-generational, and deeply concentrated in a small fraction of the population, the experiences of this population are traditionally left out of public discourse on criminal justice. In order to foster more democratic communities by continually challenging dominant narratives, we present these lived experiences as a way to rethink our common histories and public policy in light of each other’s stories.

Emma Harrison2018