Laws exist in many countries which explicitly or implicitly criminalise the poor or those that are disadvantaged.
In some countries the poor or those disadvantaged are targeted by the law, whether directly or indirectly. This takes the form of imprisoning those who are unable to pay fines or taxes, criminalising acts such as small-scale selling without a licence or sleeping on the street. In some countries, it is still possible to be arrested for being an ‘idle and disorderly person’. Law enforcement officers also frequently use poverty, homelessness or disadvantage as an indicator of criminality. There are also some ‘status offences’ that specifically target women such as witchcraft or ‘running away’.
There is a link between poverty, drug offences and imprisonment. Many people who use drugs belong to vulnerable, poor and socially excluded groups, and are easier targets for law enforcement. Drug offences too often target low-level traffickers and users with laws fixated on criminalisation rather than public health and harm reduction approaches. This results in the mass incarceration of users and people involved in non-violent low-level drug crimes as well as increased levels of police violence.
As part of our 2020-2023 strategy we are looking to demonstrate the ineffectiveness of laws criminalising certain behaviours often associated with the poorest or disadvantaged members of our society. This involves raising awareness of criminal laws which implicitly or explicitly target the poor or behaviours deemed anti-social through advocating and demonstrating the negative impact of these laws. We will partner with expert groups and civil society working with those at-risk of discriminatory laws.
Ethnic and religious minorities