"In Trinidad the rich get richer and the poor get prison."

Do you agree? Justify your answer with examples.

Research Paper (postgraduate), 2010

16 Pages, Grade: A


Despite Trinidad and Tobago’s wealth, experts say 25% live below the poverty line. According to Sookram (2008)[1] more than a ¼ of the population of oil-rich Trinidad lives below poverty line. Sookram said that 27.32% live below the poverty level despite the fact that Trinidad and Tobago has been classified as a high income country by the World Bank. “Is this why the crime rate in Trinidad and Tobago is probably the highest in the Caribbean?”[2] David Garland (1996), posits that the group that suffer the most from crime tend to be the poorest and the least powerful members of society and will usually lack the resources to but security or the flexibility to adapt their routines or organized effectively against crime.[3] This disparity between the rich and the poor which overlaps with the developing divisions between property- owning classes and those social groups who are deemed a threat to property will tend to propel us towards criminal behaviour.[4]

The term ‘rich’ may be defined as “the possession of material wealth, having abundant supply of desirable qualities or substances especially natural resources, having control of such assets and benefiting from the legislation.”[5] In contrast, ‘poor’ refers to the lack of specific resources, qualities or substances, with little or no possessions or money, having less than adequate in relation to the upper classes/the rich and wealthy.[6] Socio-economic status is an economic and sociological combined measure of a persons work experience and of individual’s or family’s economic and social position relative to others based on income, education , wealth, occupation and social status in the community. As a result of this unequal distribution issue that arises between the rich and the poor, Clarke, Twoey (2001),[7] has put fort the equitable solution arguing that one must eliminate the differences of rich and poor, and all man should be treated equally in the eyes of the law.

The distribution of wealth has always been uneven in Trinidad and Tobago. There are also extremes of wealth and poverty. The wealthy minority is made up of those with interest in the private sector manufacturing and it is widely rumoured in politics state co operations. The richest citizens in Trinidad are to be seen in the hill side suburbs of Port-of-Spain, where large villas boast satellites dishes and swimming pools. Trinidad and Tobago’s rich tend to live a transnational lifestyle, with assets and interest in the US.

The other extreme is to be found in deprived inner-city ghettos such as Laventille, where the poorest members of society live. It is here in the areas of ramshackle shacks and self built cinder-block houses, which the worst problems of poverty, unemployment and crime grow unabated. ‘Unemployment is worst among the 15-19 age groups, of which an estimated 43% are out of work.’[8] This has contributed to an alarming rise in violent crimes, much of it connected with drugs and gang warfare.

Trinidadian society is not hugely stratified on color-lines, although there are often considerable racial tensions between the African- Indian descended sectors of the community. Social mobility is possible, but there is often little opportunity for poor families to improve their economic status due to the unequal distribution of income in the society. This situation tends to propel to criminal behaviour. Ramdhanie (2002)[9] estimated the total prison population in Trinidad and Tobago 4,449 (convicted adults inmates only excluding Juvenile institutions). “The vast majority of inmates (97%) belong to the lower social class grouping…which comprises the unemployed and the poor.”[10]

Marxist and the Conflict theory is based upon the view that the fundamental causes of crime are the social and economic forces operating within society. According to this perspective the Criminal Justice System and Criminal law are thought to be operating on behalf of the rich and powerful social elites, with resulting policies and it is aimed at controlling the poor. The Criminal Justice establishment aims at imposing standard of morality and good behaviour created by the powerful from have-nots who would steal from others and protecting themselves from physical attacks. In the process the legal rights of the poor folks might be ignored.

The Conflict perspective also holds that crime is a weapon of the haves over the have-nots (Siegal 2001).[11] Marxists refer to this power-differential as the instrumental view, where the Capitalists impose their standards onto the poor. The Marxists approach sees crime as a representation of class struggle. The poor are driven to crime and the wealthy are more than eager to impose harsh sentences on the poor. In Marxist approach, the political economy considers class and economic structure as contributors to crime. The idea is that capitalism and corporate wealth for some, increases economic inequality which in turn increases crime by weakening the social bond.

Durkheim and the Functionalists perspective described the progression to a large, urban organic society as creating anomie or societal strain. This is related to the conflict view of crime, where law appears to be written by the haves to protect themselves from the have-nots. Likewise, this perspective argues that the poor are given stiff sentences while the wealthy are given leniency for even serious crimes. The Interactionist view of crime holds that crime and deviance is defined in terms of those in power and crime is given meaning by the way people react to it.

Social learning theory, credited to Albert Bandura and Ronald Akur, holds that if an individual (particularly a child) lives in a poor neighbourhood surrounding by crime, he is at a high risk for acting out the same behaviours that he sees everyday. This is the process of behaviour modelling or reinforcement. Albert Cohen[12] wrote of subculture theory that subculture are often subcultures of deviance. Subcultures develop among members of the poor who are certainly suffering from poverty or unemployment. These people having abandoned the norms of society seek belonging, opportunities and money making and otherwise rebel against the dominant culture as a group.

According to Fitzgerald (2008)[13] “One thing is sure and nothing surer is the rich get richer and the poor get children…and most of them end up in prison.” The conservatives have now re-established a firm lead on issues of law and order and argue that it was often with penal policy and with the views on crime which is linked to economic deprivation (poor). The social democratic view of crime believed that the great majority of criminal offences were committed by individuals who were economically desperate. Social democrats argued that labour is in danger of imprisoning itself in a policy cycle which increases the severity of sentencing which leads to more people being committed to prison.[14]

Reiman (1979)[15] identify with commendable empirical support the mechanisms by which the Criminal Justice system “weeds out the wealthy” and grinds down the poor. Reiman calls the “Pyrrhic defeat theory”- the thesis that the criminal justice system is design to fail to reduce crime precisely because it wins. The winners in this enterprise are those persons who could change the system but they do not, the winners are the rich and powerful. They win by having their positions and the status quo maintained by crime control. In other words Reiman argues the failure to reduce crimes sends out an ideological message that crime is a threat from the poor who are poor and powerless.

This ideology can be mirrored in Trinidad’s society and within the Criminal Justice system. As a result the Criminal Justice policy creates the ‘reality’ of crime as the work of the poor and projects an image that serves the interest of the rich and powerful. Reiman has argued that society fails to protect people from crimes they fear, and refuses to alleviate the poverty that breeds such crimes. He takes the position that the Criminal Justice system fails to protect the general population by not defining as crimes the dangerous acts of those who are rich and by failing to enforce the law vigorously when the well-to-do commit crimes. For this same reason, these failures help the criminal justice system not only in Trinidad but throughout to create the image that crime is almost exclusively the work of the poor, an image that serves the interest of the powerful.

Reiman (2001)[16] argues that the government spend little or nothing to address poverty, slums and unemployment which we know to be sources of crime. The same lack of financial support causes prisons to produce more criminals than they cure, largely because the government fund prisons in ways which allows them to provide little or no job training and preparation for a normal life upon release. This reality is also present in Trinidad society and the government fund the prisons in the same way.


[1] Sookram, Sandra, (2008), Research at SALISES, Sir Authur Lewis Institute of Socio and Economics. (Nov 28th 2008)

[2] Ibid.

[3] Garland, David (1996), British Journal of Criminology; The limits of the Sovereign State. Bjc.oxfordjournals.org.

[4] Bauma et al (1987) ‘Crime and in security in the City. Paper presented at the International Society of Criminal International Course, Leciven, Belguim, and May.

[5] www.wordnetweb.princetonedu/perl/webwn.

[6] www.thefreedictionary.com/poor.

[7] www.twoey.com

[8] Trinidad and Tobago, “Poverty and wealth” information about Poverty and wealth IN T&T. http://www.nationsencyclopedia.com/economies/Americas/Trinidad-and-Tobago-POVERTY-AND-WEALTH.html#ixzz11opEHEwi

[9] Ramdhanie, Ian. (2002) p. 126. “Prison Recidivism in Trinidad and Tobago: results from a baseline study”, Published by the Centre for Criminology and Criminal Justice, UWI St Augustine Campus Trinidad and Tobago, WI.

[10] Ibid

[11] Siegal, L.J. (2001) Criminology: Theories, Patterns and Typologies (7th Ed.), Belmont, CA: Wadsworth.

[12] Cited in Williams III, F. P., & Mc Shane, M. D (1999) Criminological Theory (3rd Ed.). Upper Saddle River, NJ: Prentice Hall.

[13] Cited in Commentary: The rich get richer and the poor get prison, The political Quarterly, Vol. 79, No. 1 (Jan-March 2008)

[14] Ibid

[15] Reiman, Jeffrey (1979) The Rich Get Richer and the Poor get Prison: Ideology, Class and Criminal Justice, Allyn and Bacon, Boston.

[16] Reiman, Jeffrey (2001) The Rich Get Richer and the Poor get Prison: Ideology, Class and Criminal Justice, Allyn and Bacon, Boston

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"In Trinidad the rich get richer and the poor get prison."
Do you agree? Justify your answer with examples.
The University of the West Indies, St. Augustine
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BSc, MSc Stacy Ramdhan (Author), 2010, "In Trinidad the rich get richer and the poor get prison." , Munich, GRIN Verlag, https://www.grin.com/document/175785


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