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The Criminal Justice System as a Welfare Handout

Nicole Martorano Van Cleve, Criminal Justice

The Criminal Justice System as a Welfare Handout: How Criminal Justice Professionals Adapt Welfare-Dependency Narratives to the World of Custody and Courts

Thursday, March 21
12:30–1:50 pm, CHAT Lounge

How do traditional distinctions between the deserving and undeserving poor become altered for use in the penal context? This work examines two central criminal justice “gateways” where professionals must evaluate defendants: the county jail, where sheriff’s officers determine which inmates are to be released, and the criminal courts, where professionals determine which defendants receive plea bargains rather than trials. In both contexts, overburdened professionals buttress formal guidelines and adopt a worldview that sorts defendants into easily navigable entities — those deserving of resources and those undeserving. Penal and legal codes become altered as defendants are sorted through the justice system based on how they relate to narratives and perceptions of welfare-dependency.