Along with partners (RE)Claim/MCDS (France), Hungarian Helsinki Committee (Hungary), Justice Collective urges the UN Special Rapporteur on the right to adequate housing and the Special Rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights to demand a Europe-wide stop to the criminalization of poverty, racist police practices, and debtor’s prisons.
While the criminalization of poverty through fines takes on different forms in each of our country contexts, we face a common and structural problem across Europe. Criminalization and fines are imposed in discriminatory ways against people who are already experiencing poverty, come from racialized groups, are experiencing houselessness –or who find themselves at the intersections of these and other identities or challenges.
In each of our states, people are targeted by criminal policy and enforcement because of their poverty, social status, skin color, presumed ethnic, national or social origins and identities, and/or the intersection of these factors. This criminalization involves direct discrimination via offenses that explicitly criminalize behaviors linked to poverty and homelessness or indirect discrimination via more general offenses (such as public order offenses) that are disproportionately applied against these groups because of who they are or are presumed to be, where they live and work, activities they turn to because of poverty, and for additional reasons.
In each of our countries, we see the problem worsening in some meaningful ways, facilitated by the Europe-wide trend towards ever-faster and simplified legal procedures, which in some cases vest adjudicative authority in police rather than courts. As police (and technology) are used to sanction more people, states do away with even the barest of procedural protections—speeding up the punishment of the poor, and allowing for criminalization to proceed at a large scale, without consideration of the underlying facts or inequities.
Photo: Konrad Lembcke / flickr.com