Wednesday, April 01, 2009

Zero-tolerance policies wreak havoc on children’s education

There are children who matter so little that no government agency even bothers to count or keep statistical track of them. They are the children of prisoners. Nationally, the justice systems have no interest in how children or families are affected by an offending parent’s imprisonment. The state ensures that the sins of the father are visited upon the son.

The number-one predictor of a child going to prison is having had a parent in prison. The number-one drag on a child’s academic success is family chaos of any kind. And nothing is as chaotic as having a parent yanked out of their lives and branded as a convict.

Sen. Leo Blais, D-Coventry, has submitted Bill S0320 to the General Assembly, to reduce the penalty for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana to a fine of $100. Excellent. Hopefully this bill will pass. Hopefully it will start a trend of rethinking all of the state’s morally-righteous but destructive laws that don’t take families into account.

The 1990s surge of harsh zero-tolerance laws stuffed the U.S. prisons to the point where we lock up a higher percentage of our own people than any other country in the world. Some unlucky inmates got caught with an ounce or less of marijuana. In Rhode Island, 89 percent of the marijuana arrests are for possession. Is passing a joint among friends that much more pernicious than sharing a bottle of wine?

Well, some would say marijuana is the gateway to more serious drug use. Sol Roderiquez, director of the Family Life Center in South Providence, would say, “Incarceration itself leads to worse drugs, often worse crimes. And with a prison record, it’s so hard for an ex-offender to get a job, crime is one of the few options left.” And so the cycle continues. The Family Life Center helps ex-cons piece their shattered lives back together so they can live in the mainstream again.

According to the 2007 Pew prison report, Rhode Island spends $44,860 a year per inmate — the highest in the country. And that doesn’t include the court costs.

But neighboring Massachusetts passed a law similar to Blais’ that will save their taxpayers almost $30 million a year in arrests, bookings, and basic court costs alone. Eleven other states have also passed such laws. Vermont is considering one now. Blais’ bill is not legalization of marijuana, but decriminalization. The mom, dad, uncle, or sister caught with a joint won’t have a criminal conviction on their record that makes supporting a family with legitimate work nigh impossible.

According to a survey done by RI Kids Count, as of Sept. 30, 2007, roughly two-thirds of the 3,081 inmate responders had children — 4,520 children, to be exact. When the parent goes to jail, many children go into foster or residential care, or stay with relatives who resent the unasked-for burden and cost. Families split up. Children act out. The stress is intense.

Roderiquez says, “When the state imposes such a severe punishment, it should take the whole family into account. Prison has huge consequences for the whole family. But we’ve dehumanized this population. They don’t have feelings or respond emotionally. No one pays attention to the fact that we’re pushing the families into falling apart.”

Roderiquez and her colleague Nick Horton, policy researcher at the center, have seen it all, and rattled off story after story.

There was the family with three daughters. When the husband and breadwinner went to prison, the mother went on welfare. In time, the youngest child had to be treated for post-traumatic stress disorder, and the oldest became a classically enraged young adolescent, getting involved in serious escapist bad habits. All three girls’ grades at school have tanked. Roderiquez and Horton add that children’s grades always suffer. Always. “It’s the first thing to go,” said Roderiquez.

Then there was the single father responsible for two children. When he went to prison, one dropped out of school immediately, and the other ran away.

I’ll gladly stipulate that smoking dope could be an indicator of growing or potentially dangerous social behavior. But wouldn’t it be more effective in the long run, more healing for everyone, to send a family-services worker to the home to help those families who are in fact dangerously drug-involved? The City of Providence has a nationally recognized “go-team” of family-service workers whom the police call to crime scenes when children are present or a family is traumatized. Use them for marijuana busts. If you must punish the offender, revoke a bit of the family’s privacy by investigating whether a family has unhealthy stresses driving the drug use. If we’re serious about “corrections,” the only real way to correct misbehavior is to get to the root cause, which prison does not.

When the best solution to a social problem is treatment, provide treatment. It’s cheaper than courts and prisons, healthier, and more long-lasting. For my money, the state should look at all their laws with an eye to the collateral damage that harsh penalties cause to an offender’s extended community. Is the damage worth it? Sometimes prison is necessary, but often it’s just vindictive.

And for heaven’s sake, start collecting data on the inmates’ children. Bring those children to light. They are our responsibility.


How to Cure Your Daughter’s STD

by Mike S. Adams

Dear Steve:

Thanks for writing me with your concerns about your daughter’s recent visit home from college. I don’t have a daughter but I can understand the concern you have after seeing such dramatic changes in her after just six months at a public university. After all, you didn’t save money for eighteen long years in order to pay someone to teach her to despise the values you taught for, well, eighteen long years.

First of all, I want you to understand that many of the crazy ideas you hear your daughter espousing are commonplace on college campuses. Nonetheless, it must have been shocking for you to hear that she supported Barack Obama in the last election principally because of his ideas about “the redistribution of wealth.” I know you were also disappointed to hear of her sudden opposition to the War on Terror and her sudden embrace of the United Nations. Most of all, I know you are disappointed that she has stopped going to church altogether.

Now that your daughter is not going to church it will be easier to get her to accept other policies based on economic and cultural Marxism. Socialist professors like the fact that average church attendance drops dramatically after just one year of college. God and socialism are simply incompatible. One cannot worship both Jesus Christ and Karl Marx.

But there is good news, Steve. I think I can implement a program that will cure your daughter’s Socialist Teaching Disorder (STD) in just a few short days. In case you were wondering, I define STD as the sudden infatuation with socialism brought on by exposure to pro-socialist ideas without a corresponding exposure to anti-socialist ideas. Although not recognized by the APA, this emotional disorder is running rampant at American universities.

The solution to your daughter’s STD is to be found in your decision to award her a sum of $4000 if she returns from her freshman year with a 3.5 GPA or above. Previously, you explained to me that you decided to do this for two reasons: 1) Your daughter had earned a $4000 scholarship, which meant you had the extra money, and 2) Your only son had gone to college five years ago and flunked out after one year.

Now that your daughter has maintained a 3.6 GPA (so far) you are happy. But you are unhappy that you are about to reward her newfound love of socialism when you had only intended to reward her studiousness. I have a solution that involves three steps. If you follow these steps (in order) we’ll have this little problem cured in no time:

1. When your daughter returns from college in early May (presumably with a GPA over 3.5) I want you to tell her that you lied. Put simply, when she asks about her $4000 just tell her that you never really had any intention of delivering on your promises.

This revelation will, no doubt, cause significant consternation and outrage. But when she protests, simply point out that her choice for president, Barack Obama, also lied to her. Note that his lies about earmarks and line-by-line analysis of the budget will probably end up costing her more than $4000. She might say, “But you’re my father.” If she does, respond by saying “But I’m not your president.” If things get too uncomfortable, just tell her the $4000 promise was technically “last year’s business.”

2. When your daughter has cooled down somewhat from the realization that her father is a confessed liar I want you to strike again. Since your son, now 23, still lives at home it will be possible for you to implement step two in the presence of both children. This step will involve simply taking out your wallet and writing a $2000 check to your son.

This action will, no doubt, cause even more consternation and outrage for your daughter. She may well point out that her brother is unemployed. She may also point out that he has been in rehab twice and that he once punched you in the face while under the influence of drugs. But, when she protests, simply say that it was Barack Obama who taught you to reward failure.

She may well say “But that’s half of the money I was supposed to get.” If so, point out that it is Barack Obama who would like to take other people’s money – at least half, if not more – and use much of it to reward bad behavior. By this time, she will probably hate socialism and the lesson will have saved you a lot of money.

But, just in case the point is not yet made, there is a third step to my plan. And this is where I get actively involved.

3. I’m going to take your daughter and the remaining $2000 - in the form of one hundred $20 bills – to the “hood.” Specifically, I am going to take her to places where crack cocaine is sold here in Wilmington in the middle of the afternoon. This will include grocery stores and actual crack houses. Don’t worry about your daughter’s safety as I will be armed with a .357 magnum loaded with 145-grain silver tipped hollow point bullets. When I approach a crack head I will first ask whether he paid income taxes last year. If he says “no” I will hand him $20.

If your daughter asks me why I give money to people who don’t pay taxes I’ll remind her that this is what President Obama does. Then I’ll ask her if she still believes in “spreading the wealth” without regard to individual merit.

By the end of the afternoon, I can guarantee your daughter will be cured of her STD. Sorry if I sound overly optimistic, Steve. I got my optimism from the same place I got my love of capitalism. I learned it from Ronald Reagan, not Barack Obama.


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