Critical Criminology

, Volume 25, Issue 4, pp 483–506 | Cite as

Punishing Benevolence: The Criminalization of Homeless Feeding as an Act of State Harm

  • Christopher P. DumEmail author
  • Robert J. Norris
  • Kevin Weng


The homeless population in the United States increased substantially since the 1980s. As a result, research into homelessness and its effects, as well as policies aimed at addressing this vital social problem, have also grown. While criminologists have examined state actions to control the homeless from a critical perspective, we are not aware of any research that addresses the issue of restricting homeless feeding. Because such state actions extend the criminal justice system by criminalizing benevolent acts, restrictions on feeding the homeless are ripe for critical examination. In this article, we examine such restrictions in American cities and argue that they can be conceptualized as a form of state harm. These government practices target homeless advocates engaged in charitable work by prohibiting feeding in particular locations and/or requiring expensive permits and licenses in order to provide food. Using the theoretical framework of state crime we argue that these policies are a recent evolution of laws that target the homeless, and suggest that these polices represent a disturbing trend of policies that attempt to regulate grassroots and community efforts to combat injustice and inequality. We finish by offering new directions for research and action in order to reduce the harm incurred by these policies.


Criminal Justice System Public Space Homeless People State Crime Homeless Population 
These keywords were added by machine and not by the authors. This process is experimental and the keywords may be updated as the learning algorithm improves.


Compliance with Ethical Standards

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  • Christopher P. Dum
    • 1
    Email author
  • Robert J. Norris
    • 2
  • Kevin Weng
    • 1
  1. 1.Department of SociologyKent State UniversityKentUSA
  2. 2.Department of Government and Justice StudiesAppalachian State UniversityBooneUSA

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