The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get Prison  book cover
13th Edition

The Rich Get Richer, the Poor Get Prison

  • Available for pre-order on April 4, 2023. Item will ship after April 25, 2023
ISBN 9781032437521
April 25, 2023 Forthcoming by Routledge
238 Pages

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Book Description

For 40 years, this classic text has taken the issue of economic inequality seriously and asked: Why are our prisons filled with the poor? Why aren’t the tools of the criminal justice system being used to protect Americans from predatory business practices and to punish well-off people who cause widespread harm?

This new edition continues to engage readers in important exercises of critical thinking: Why has the U.S. relied so heavily on tough crime policies despite evidence of their limited effectiveness, and how much of the decline in crime rates can be attributed to them? Why does the U.S. have such a high crime rate compared to other developed nations, and what could we do about it? Are the morally blameworthy harms of the rich and poor equally translated into criminal laws that protect the public from harms on the streets and harms from the suites? How much class bias is present in the criminal justice system – both when the rich and poor engage in the same act, and when the rich use their leadership of corporations to perpetrate mass victimization?

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison shows readers that much of what goes on in the criminal justice system violates citizens’ sense of basic fairness. It presents extensive evidence from mainstream data that the criminal justice system does not function in the way it says it does nor in the way that readers believe it should. The authors develop a theoretical perspective from which readers might understand these failures and evaluate them morally—and they do it in a short text written in plain language.

Readers who are not convinced about the larger theoretical perspective will still have engaged in extensive critical thinking to identify their own taken-for-granted assumptions about crime and criminal justice, as well as uncover the effects of power on social practices. This engagement helps readers develop their own worldview.

New to this edition:

• Presents recent data comparing the harms due to criminal activity with the harms of dangerous—but not criminal—corporate actions

• Updates research on class discrimination at every stage of the criminal justice system

• Updates statistics on crime, victimization, incarceration, and wealth

• Increased material for thinking critically about criminal justice and criminology

• New material on global warming and why Black Lives Matter protests did not cause increases in crime in 2020

• Expanded discussion of marijuana and drug legalization

• Stronger chapter overviews, clearer chapter structure and expanded review questions

• Streamlined and condensed prose for greater clarity.

Table of Contents


Chapter 1 - Crime Control in America: Nothing Succeeds Like Failure

Chapter 2 - A Crime by Any Other Name …

Chapter 3 - … And the Poor Get Prison

Chapter 4 - To the Vanquished Belong the Spoils: Who Is Winning the Losing War Against Crime?

Chapter 5 – Conclusion: Criminal Justice or Criminal Justice

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Jeffrey Reiman is the William Fraser McDowell Professor Emeritus of Philosophy at American University in Washington, DC. Dr. Reiman is the author of In Defense of Political Philosophy (1972), Justice and Modern Moral Philosophy (1990), Critical Moral Liberalism: Theory and Practice (1997), The Death Penalty: For and Against (with Louis P. Pojman, 1998), Abortion and the Ways We Value Human Life (1999), As Free and as Just as Possible (2012), and more than 60 articles in philosophy and criminal justice journals and anthologies.

Paul Leighton is a Professor in the Department of Sociology, Anthropology and Criminology at Eastern Michigan University. Dr. Leighton is the co-author of Punishment for Sale (with Donna Selman, 2010) and Class, Race, Gender and Crime (6th edition, 2023). He has been president of the board of his local domestic violence shelter and is currently head of the advisory board of his university’s food pantry.


Close to 50 years now after its original publication, this book and its main arguments (sadly) remain more pertinent than ever. It is clearly written while not shying from complex and important concepts, like the social construction of crime and criminality, and the ideological role of our criminal justice system. Its clarity and organization make it infinitely teachable and readable, while its frequent updates provide current and cutting edge evidence to support its claims. I look forward to continuing to teach with this book in the years ahead.

-Sarah Tosh, Assistant Professor of Sociology, Anthropology, and Criminal Justice, Rutgers University

I first was exposed to this book as a graduate student back in the 1980s. At the time, I was working full time in a prison and really thought the book was thought-provoking. When I became a college professor and was asked to teach a class on crime control policy, I immediately knew this was the book to use. This book, at least to me, is perfect for talking about policy, power, and control. Thus, this book is an important read for any criminal justice student!

-Nancy L. Hogan, Professor of Criminal Justice, Ferris State University

This book is a classic, and should be read by everyone interested in understanding crime and justice in America. I first read it decades ago, and it changed the way I think about these issues. The argument holds up over time, and draws attention not only to deficiencies in the way we explain crime and promote "justice," but also contains an important critique of the focus of criminology on the crimes of powerless to the exclusion of examinations of the crimes of powerful corporate and political criminals in society.

-Michael J. Lynch, Professor of Criminology, University of South Florida

I use this book in undergraduate and graduate courses. It has been for many years, and I’m sure will continue to be, the best means for sharing with students a critical overview of criminal justice. Its coauthors are among the best at challenging dogma and providing accessible, thoughtful analyses of US criminal justice. Many of my students respond thoughtfully to the book. Since an academic colleague who is a lawyer and former police officer recommended it to me about a decade ago, I have been very enthusiastic about this book. It is part of my short list of books I wish I had written.

-Joshua R. Klein, Associate Professor of Sociology and Criminology, Iona College

The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison remains an all-time classic which has become, if anything, more relevant as time has progressed. It is a truly comprehensive examination of the criminal legal system, clearly and concisely demonstrating how and why the system does not operate as it claims, as well as how it violates so many of our basic conceptions of fairness and justice. Required reading for anyone seeking to understand why our response to crime is fundamentally broken.

- Jesse Wozniak, Associate Professor of Sociology, West Virginia University

An established part of the criminal justice / criminology literature which emphasizes social class and its relationship to criminal justice, The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison, 12th edition, provides critical updates to the changing landscape of crime and justice in the US. Reiman and Leighton eloquently address issues like discrimination and victimization while returning the centrality of class over time. This fosters critical thinking and provides fodder for excellent classroom discussions, even in large, lecture courses like mine.

-Mike-Frank G. Epitropoulos, Senior Lecturer in Sociology, University of Pittsburgh