Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

ASA Teaching Resources and Innovation Library for Sociology (TRAILS)


The reflexive paper assignment presented here calls on students to reflect on their own family and/or personal experiences in order to answer the question, “From where does the greatest harm arise?” In The Rich Get Richer and the Poor Get Prison: Ideology, Class and Criminal Justice, Reiman and Leighton (2010) make the case that the criminal justice system presents to us a carnival mirror-like image of what causes the greatest harm to society. The criminal justice system, through its policies and procedures, leads the public to conceive of a typical sort of crime committed by the typical criminal. The typical crime is thought to be person-to-person, violent, and most often carried out by a male who is assumed to be black, young, and urban. In opposition to this distorted, carnival mirror like view, Reiman and Leighton lay out four (4) true causes of harm largely ignored by the system of criminal justice. They are, 1) the harm of workplaces; 2) the harm of healthcare; 3) the harm of environmental pollutants, and 4) the harm of poverty.

When students write a reflexive essay on the sources of harm they’ve encountered and share their findings in class, their belief in the typical criminal/typical crime as a source of harm is challenged. Institutional forms of deviance and white-collar crime, not black, young, urban males, come to be seen as the most common sources of harm.


Originally published in the TRAILS online database.