December 6, 2021

Tony Messenger, Pulitzer-Prize Winning Journalist and Author of Profit and Punishment: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Justice

The wealth gap in America creates any number of problems—but perhaps the most pressing is its expansion of poverty. When this poverty intersects with a broken criminal justice system, it becomes criminalized. The cycles of poverty and incarceration can span generations, and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Tony Messenger of the St. Louis Post Dispatch has spent years covering the stories of the people affected. In his new book Profit and Punishment: How America Criminalizes the Poor in the Name of Justice, he exposes the tragedy of modern-day debtors’ prisons, and how they destroy the lives of poor Americans swept up in a system designed to penalize the most impoverished.


“Messenger is one of the few columnists―maybe the only one―in America whose beat is the poor who are preyed upon by public officials”
―St. Louise Magazine

“With the keen eye and compassionate heart of an award-winning journalist, Messenger shows us that Ferguson is everywhere, putting a human face on the millions of Americans being crushed every year by cash register injustice.”
―Jeffrey Selbin, Chancellor’s Clinical Professor of Law

“Timely and important… should enrage anyone who comes to understand it―and Profit and Punishment is the perfect place to start that understanding.”
―Shelf Awareness

“An eye-opening, relevant, and heartbreaking account on the epidemic of criminalized poverty.”

“Explores the byzantine paths of so-called justice… Profit and Punishment is persuasive and enraging, a book that will stir readers from both sides of the aisle to support reform.”

“A heartbreaking study of how the American justice system is weighted against the poor. … Interweaving hard evidence with harrowing firsthand stories, this is a powerful call for change.”
―Publishers Weekly

“A shocking account… In plainspoken and powerful language, Messenger exposes the unconscionable, unethical and utterly heartbreaking. Read these riveting accounts and be stirred to action!”
―Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, Pulitzer Prize Finalist, author of Race for Profit

“Tony Messenger’s Pulitzer Prize-winning series on debtors’ prisons in Missouri made a serious difference in real people’s lives and his book will be a must read for a nation seeking a bipartisan path forward on criminal justice reform.”
―Claire McCaskill, former US Senator and analyst for MSNBC

“An intimate, raw, and utterly scathing look at the ordinary and everyday ways in which America’s criminal justice system has directly increased the poverty of the many, and dramatically increased the profits of the few, in recent years. All will have zero doubt after reading this devastating account of the full scale human rights crisis that has been wrought by these policies that they must act, immediately, to overhaul them.”
―Heather Ann Thompson, Pulitzer Prize-winning author of Blood in the Water


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Sources for audio clips

For-Profit Probation Companies Exploit Poorest Americans - Human Rights Watch
Why Are We Criminalizing Poverty? - The Young TUrks
Municipal Violations: Last Week Tonight with John Oliver (HBO)
Without funds to pay fines, minor incidents can mean jail - PBS News Hour
Paying Private Probation Companies
For-Profit Probation Companies Exploit Poorest Americans - Human Rights Watch
Criminalizing Poverty
Why Are We Criminalizing Poverty? - The Young TUrks
Drivers license suspended for court fees
Free to Drive Campaign: End driver's license suspensions for unpaid fines and fees - Fines and Fees Justice Center
Bipartisan Support
Senate passes bipartisan criminal justice reform bill - CBS News
Probation pay for drug test
TikTok DanielLarsonFullOfGrace
Bail Reform
Here's the Problem With the Cash Bail System - Global Citizen
Modern-Day Debtors' Prisons - BU School of Public Health

Show Credits

Host: Alyssa Milano
Executive Producer: Alyssa Milano
Associate Producer: Ben Jackson
Editing and Sound Production: Maciej Lewandowski
Music by: Josh Cooke & Eleisha Eagle and Milo Bugliari