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LA Times’ Disingenuous Take On California Poverty

You cannot ignore the criminal justice system's role in the problem.

An audience listens to a panel of Los Angeles organizers and activists discussing L.A. County’s $3.5 billion jail expansion plan. (Photo by JusticeLA)

In the January 14th LA Times Op-Ed titled “Why Is Liberal California The Poverty Capital of America?,” by not even mentioning the criminal justice system and its detrimental effects on poor and working class people across the state, author Kerry Jackson is at best being disingenuous.

Without talking about the money bail system and its perilous effects on the housing and job security of working class people, or about the effects incarceration has on individual and family mental health, how can we truly have a conversation about poverty?

For someone arrested with means or a financial support network, bail is paid quickly while the person waits for their eventual court date. For someone struggling financially, without access to savings, or a parent or family friend to get a loan from, bail is devastating. Will an employer continue to employ someone who got arrested over the weekend but stopped showing up for work because they can’t afford bail? Will a landlord sympathize with a tenant that can’t pay their rent because they can’t afford the bail to get themselves out and therefore can’t work to pay their bills? Tens of thousands of people sit in the California jail system simply because they cannot afford bail. Could this be a driver of poverty?

Here in Los Angeles county, the jail system is not only home to the largest jail population in the world, it also is the biggest mental health facility in the United States, though mental health issues often go undiagnosed, ignored and untreated. JusticeLA, a coalition co-founded by African-American artist and activist Patrisse Cullors that is fighting against the LA County plan to use $3.5 billion dollars to build two new jails, states “Research shows that people with mental health conditions inevitably get worse in jails. The chances of developing a mental health condition for people with no previous history of mental health issues doubles once they are incarcerated.” In a criminal justice system that disproportionately targets poor communities and communities of color, might a shortfall of mental health care be exponentially damaging to already marginalized communities?

There are many things that contribute to poverty in California, but without being honest about a criminal justice system rooted in white supremacy, functioning to keep poor people poor, Jackson’s Op-Ed serves as nothing more than racist fodder for people whose ignorance perpetuates an unequal and unjust society.

Adam Smith is a member of White People 4 Black Lives.

White People 4 Black Lives (WP4BL) is a white anti-racist collective and activist project of the Alliance of White Anti-Racists Everywhere (AWARE-LA) and operates within a national network of white anti-racists called Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ). WP4BL is rooted in acting in solidarity with Black Lives Matter: Los Angeles. For more information, visit www.awarela.org