Saturday, November 19, 2005

What about the children?

SSDPers all around the country work continuously to combat certain misguided policies that directly target young people, such as student drug testing, the HEA Drug Provision, or misleading drug "education" programs like DARE. But do we stop often enough to consider the way punitive prohibitionist policies in general so often discard youth as collateral damage in this Drug War?

RawStory has a review of the new book All Alone in the World: Children of the Incarcerated. The book, by Nell Bernstein, talks about the short- and long-term effects a parent's arrest can have on a young person. In addition to being left parentless when moms and dads are serving time, kids continue to suffer when their parents come out of prison and aren't able to find jobs, get food stamps, and secure housing.
[S]hutting down every means by which a parent can hope to go straight is a recipe for recidivism that punishes both parents and their kids. "Children," Bernstein writes, celebrate their parent's release "with cyclical regularity, then lose hope in increments as she fights a losing battle against joblessness, untreated addiction, and the intractable stigma of a criminal record." When a parent can't get a job or food stamps, or live in public housing or get into a decent drug treatment program because of her past conviction, the resulting strain undermines the parent-child relationship, humiliates and enrages everyone involved, and increases the chances of the parent turning to crime again and the child following her example.
There are 2.4 million children in the U.S. who now have a mother or father behind bars. And hearing many of their stories is enough to outrage anyone with a shred of compassion or common sense.
The police who came for nine-year-old Ricky's mom were in such a hurry that they left him alone in the apartment with his infant brother. For two weeks, Ricky cooked for himself and his brother, and changed his diapers, until neighbors noticed and called Child Protective Services. Antonia was five when she saw her mother arrested on the street for prostitution — handcuffed and put into the back of a police car. At home, she and her ten-year-old brother were on their own for a week until their mother returned.
There's got to be a better way than this.
...Bernstein argues that the well-being of both prisoners and their children is better insured through drug treatment, regular family visits, and parenting classes than it is through simply locking prisoners up, forcing them to communicate with their children by phone or through glass, or farming a child out to a foster home "for their own good..."
Sounds to me like Bernstein's book is worth checking out. Here's an idea: buy a copy for your favorite state legislator for the holidays.


cliff said...

This post shows that the war on some drugs is not about protecting the children. The war on some drugs is about the kind of job security with benefits you can only get with a government gig. I am convinced that there are so many people's jobs on the line, that the pursuit of personal gain outweighs any other consideration. Like a bus, careening down a steep street with no brakes, its only path is downhill, with the gravity pulling it faster and faster. The bus will run over anything in its path, children, old people, innocents until it is stopped by an irresistable force. The only thing that can stop this bus is the will of the people to vote the bastards who created (and / or allow it to continue) the war on some drugs out of office. I hope this happens in my lifetime. Liberty now!

Kris said...

Tom, thanks for putting this post together. This real consequence of the war on families is something SSDP has the capacity and age-face to take on publicly in a powerful way. As I said before, I hope SSDP broadens its leadership and base to include young people so directly affected, whether they are students or not.

Spend just 5 minutes in a "visitation" room at any prison, and you will never doubt again that the war on drugs is anything short of a war on families. Add to that the pain of the men and women whose children and loved ones are unable to visit for years at a time, if ever.

Kris said...

Spend just 5 minutes in a "visitation" room in any prison, and one will have no doubt that the war on drugs is anything other than a war on families. Period. Not to mention the countless incarcerated men and women who don't get visits from loved ones for years or decades at a time, if ever.

Does the war on drugs keep children safe?