Map of life expectancy at birth from Global Education Project.

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Moral Values

This morning we heard from representatives of the Children's Defense Fund, who discussed the Fund's report and campaign called Cradle to Prison Pipeline. Using what a take to be the method called Life Table Analysis (although they didn't actually say so), CDF has figured out that a Black boy born today has a 1 out of 3 chance of going to prison during his lifetime, and a Hispanic boy a 1 out of 6 chance, compared to 1 out of 17 for a white boy. Ratios for girls are similarly disproportionate, although the absolute chances are lower.

The CDF points out that 1 out of 6 children in the U.S. are living in poverty, and that the numbers living in poverty, and the poverty rate has increased during the reign of the current Christian moral values administration -- most dramatically among the very poor. Poverty is of course associated with all sorts of problems for children -- failure in school being the most pervasive. The CDF goes on to talk about all the other ills that afflict poor children, and disproportionately afflict poor and minority children, but I want to get to the bottom line.

The essence of this problem is that our society responds to children in trouble with punishment -- if they are black or Hispanic. The presenter -- Natacha Blain -- told some astonishing stories of police being called to arrest children as young as four or five for such crimes as refusing to take a nap or having a temper tantrum. Thirty-nine percent of the youth population are minority group members, but they represent 60% of youth who are incarcerated. Mostly, they are committed for drug related offenses. Once you are in Juvi, you're well on your way to prison.

But guess what? The CDF for some reason doesn't point this out, but all the available information shows that Black and Hispanic youth are less likely than white youth to use illicit drugs. The difference is the response -- white kids from affluent families aren't prosecuted for using or even distributing drugs. There probably won't be any law enforcement response at all, in fact, but if there is, they will be "diverted" into mandated counseling, not prosecuted. Poor black and Hispanic kids face a lot of disadvantages that add up to the likelihood of a grim future -- lack of adequate health care, including mental health treatment if they need it, damaging neighborhood environments, greater likelihood of exposure to violence, poor schools, low expectations, you name it. But the worst problem they face is that when they need help, they aren't treated like children in need, but like criminals.

That, of course, is the philosophy of the Christian leadership of our country. I thought that Jesus said something like, whatever you do to the least of these, you do to me; but apparently he really said, fear and hate the least of these, then lock them away.

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