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Law, Legal Institutions, and the Criminalization of the Underclass

David Ray Papke

Marquette University - Law School

August 2, 2009

Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 09-27

The contemporary underclass is defined not by race but rather by its weak or nonexistent ties to the labor market. Members of the underclass are more likely to be labeled as criminals than are any other members of society. The process is not a tightly coordinated conspiracy, but in various ways police, prosecutors, and jailers routinely deem members of the underclass to be nefarious lawbreakers. While in many cases underclass men and women have committed acts that justify this perception, the criminal justice system as a whole is too eager and too hasty to attach the criminal label to members of the underclass. What’s more, law and legal institutions contribute to an even broader process of criminalization, one which assumes the entire underclass is criminal. This criminalization of the underclass dooms members of the underclass to be outsiders in American life and becomes a central and powerful premise in the general framework of sociopolitical thought.

Number of Pages in PDF File: 33

Keywords: underclass, criminals, criminal law, criminal justice, police, prosecutors

JEL Classification: K14, K42

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Date posted: August 4, 2009  

Suggested Citation

Papke, David Ray, Law, Legal Institutions, and the Criminalization of the Underclass (August 2, 2009). Marquette Law School Legal Studies Paper No. 09-27. Available at SSRN: http://ssrn.com/abstract=1442826 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.1442826

Contact Information

David Ray Papke (Contact Author)
Marquette University - Law School ( email )
Eckstein Hall
P.O. Box 1881
Milwaukee, WI 53201
United States
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