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Important book about law's treatment of poor and homeless
on March 27, 2010
Banished explores geographic restrictions that are placed on people in the city -- often homeless people and people of color. The authors use a variety of sources: records from the police and the courts, archives from the city council, interviews with prosecutors, defenders, and judges, and -- most vividly -- interviews with people who are subject to the restrictions.
The book focuses on Seattle, which uses a number of geographic restrictions. It should interest anyone concerned about poverty, homelessness, criminal justice, and civil liberties.
Very often probation (or a deferred sentence) for a minor offense includes an order to Stay Out of Areas of Prostitution (SOAP) or to Stay Out of Drug Areas (SODA). Hundreds of people are also given trespass admonishments, with orders not to go to one or many parks or not to go to one or many businesses.
Violating these orders subjects a person to arrest, trial, and jail. And yet obeying the orders often isolates the person from his or her community and makes it difficult to get social services, and so most people covered by the orders do not obey them.
The scope of the system is large (and therefore costly). In Seattle, for example, criminal trespass charges led to over 10,000 jail days in 2005. And the city attorney estimated that jailing SODA violators cost the city about $1 million from March 2006 to December 2007.
Thoroughly researched and eye-opening.