This brief focuses on how socio-economic status intersects with the criminal justice system in the District of Columbia. The justice system’s impact on low-income communities is complicated, interrelated, and difficult to isolate. The high cost of living makes Washington a challenging place for many to live. The city has a median income higher than the national average, but some communities, mainly the wards or neighborhoods that are primarily made up of people of color, have some of the highest poverty and unemployment rates in the country. The District has the greatest income inequality of any major city in the country, with the average income of the top fifth of the District’s households 31 times higher than the average income of the bottom fifth of households.
Poverty does not create crime, nor is limited wealth and income necessarily a predictor of involvement in the justice system; however, evidence shows that people with the fewest financial resources are more likely to end up in prison or jail. And during an economic crisis like the one we are now experiencing, people at the lower end of the income and wealth spectrum frequently bear a disproportionate share of the consequences.