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November 11, 2019

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The Haves vs. The Have Nots

Sociologist George Rusche of Frankfurt school viewed crime as a product of economic necessity, deterred only when the severity of punishment exceeded the ravages of poverty. Quoting George Bernard Shaw, Rusche observed that " if the prison does not underbid the slum in human misery, the slum will empty and the prison will fill." Historically it is the economic situation of the dispossessed that shaped punishment, i.e. fines, torture, and imprisonment. The unemployed fell victim to lawmakers and judges who were more lenient when labor was scarce and workers were fully employed. Punishment intensified and became more wasteful of labor when the economy slowed and workers were idle. Rusche's innovation was to show that property owners and state officials responded not to the criminality of individual offenders, but to the entire propertyless class. In this sense, the criminal justice system embodied a social conflict that pitted the forces of property against the lower classes. - Hassan Shabazz
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