Honors Program


Document Type


Date of this Version

Spring 3-8-2023


Ashlyn Dickmeyer. (2023). With Liberty and Justice for the Wealthy: The Criminalization of the American Poor. Undergraduate Honors Thesis. University of Nebraska-Lincoln.


Copyright Ashlyn Dickmeyer 2023.


The last phrase of the Pledge of Allegiance states “with liberty and justice for all”. However, not everyone has access to this liberty and justice. Liberty and justice can be bought in this country for a price, and those who can’t afford to pay it are often left in the hands of those who can. One of the most prominent ways to see this is by analyzing the criminal justice system. Despite clauses in the Fourteenth Amendment and court cases like Gideon v. Wainwright (1963) establishing and upholding that the poor are entitled to equal treatment within the criminal justice system, indigent defendants commonly have these rights violated. Individuals with low incomes or lack of resources face discrimination and worse outcomes in all stages of the criminal justice system. This thesis focuses specifically on how pre-trial detention or release, type of counsel, the plea bargaining process, and past involvements with the system impact poor individuals long after they finish serving their sentence. Based on a literature review of existing research, poverty is a very impactful factor on the experiences and outcomes for individuals in the criminal justice system. How these effects interact with and perpetuate the cycle of poverty are summarized, spillover effects are identified, and changes to the system are recommended.