There is little room for debate in the statistics that those who are poorer are more likely to be arrested and go to jail. This connection is one that has been well established and make logical sense to most of us. Those who are poor have less to lose and more to gain from the commission of a crime. But, crime takes many forms, as does poverty and not all of those who are poor choose to commit crimes. So what is it about poverty that makes someone more susceptible to the natural human instinct to break societies rules rather than the tribal instinct to follow them?
First, we must make a distinction between poverty and hopelessness. This is most easy to see when you visit a college campus. If you ask many of the kids at your local college how much money they have and how much debt they have you will find that they are poorer than many people you will find in the poorest neighborhoods. Yet we do not typically consider college students when we discuss the poor. This is because we understand, as they do, that they have hope. They will not remain poor. As a result they are very unlikely to commit a crime, while the young man of the same age working the same job, but not spending his money at college will feel the need to break the law to get ahead.
Crimes of theft are not the only crimes that those who are in poverty are more likely to be arrested for. It is also far more likely for the poor to be arrested for drug related crimes. This is a three-fold problem when discussing economics and crime. First we must establish the effect of hopelessness on drug use, second we must examine the increased likelihood of being caught and third we must examine the number of those who have become poor due to their drug abuse. Of all these factors the most important returns to hopelessness though. A person who truly believes that there is something good for him in the future is far less likely to try hard drugs(or even soft drugs though the difference is far less dramatic).
The final question of crime and economics is the reverse. There is little doubt that crime hurts the economy and more so for those who can’t afford to live in safer neighborhoods. This effect can come from the increased pressure to join in crime, the difficulties in moving, the distance to good jobs, the damage done to property and the school systems. All of these are aggravated by crime and keep those who have difficult economic situations stuck in those situations.
It is not only our personal economies that are affected by these things but the nation’s economy as well. We spend billions of dollars a year in prisons, rehabilitation, metal detectors, police, fire fighters, judges, and more and while there will always be crime perhaps we must consider the cost of the crime compared to the cost of giving people the hope that they can get out of the situations they are in by building better schools, giving more money for college and trade schools and even prison rehabilitation programs and decide in a logical fashion where our national interests lie.