Ending the criminalisation of poverty

Research demostrates that ending the criminalisation of poverty through prevention and diversion is an effective way to keep communities safe.

Executive Summary

  • The criminalisation of poverty refers to the unfair treatment of individuals and communities by the Criminal Justice System (CJS) because of conditions of poverty.
  • The poor may be imprisoned for debt: between 1995 and 2018, over 2,200 people were sent to prison for non-payment of fines associated with using a TV Licence. Between 2010 and 2017, 692 cases resulted in a jail order and 7,990 in a suspended committal order for non-payment of council tax.
  • A survey of Welsh prisoners revealed that 33% of them reported having experienced a parent or relative’s incarceration during their childhood.
  • 65% of sons of prisoners end up in the Criminal Justice System.
  • School exclusion affects life outcomes. In 2019, the National Crime Agency found that 100% of children involved in County Lines had been ex-cluded from school, and that being excluded from school is a contributing factor leading to a young person’s risk of criminal exploitation.
  • In 2012, the MOJ published a report on prisoners’ childhood and family backgrounds and found that 62% of prisoners had been excluded from school (a number much higher than the rate of exclusions at the national level).

About the Research

The analysis of the criminalisation of poverty including identification of the channels through which it takes place, as well as the exploration of possible ways to prevent it, is deeply rooted in the mission of the ‘Is it a Crime to be Poor’ (ICP) Alliance*. 

As part of its research, ICP has collated evidence on how the poor are disproportionately affected by the criminal justice system.

Policy recommendations

  • End imprisonment for nonpayment of a civil debtEnable diversion from the CJS with well-funded community support programmes that have prov-en to be effective as a first option
  • Consider the intergenerational impact of custody when calculating the costs of sentencing
  • Minimise school exclusions
  • Be forward looking!  



Professor Siddhartha Bandyopadhyay
Professor of Economics, Director, Centre for Crime, Justice and Policing, University of Birmingham.

Dr Juste Abramovaite
Senior Research Fellow, Institute for Global Innovation, University of Birmingham.

Dr Debjani Dasgupta
Research Fellow, University of Birmingham.

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