Thursday, June 13, 2013

sesame street goes to prison

 writes in Time about something new for the Big Bird set:

Nearly 2 million American children— one quarter of them too young to go to kindergarten— now have a parent in prison or jail.  To help the littlest ones cope, Sesame Street has just released a toolkit for families faced with losing a parent for what can be years or even decades, including a video featuring a Muppet whose father is locked up.  It is titled “Little Children Big Challenges:  Incarceration.”
Imagine! Two million children have a parent in prison or jail. Prison is becoming normal. Do we really want this for our country?
Research shows that incarceration does incredible damage to families, doubling the odds that children will later be homeless, increasing the risk for aggressive child behavior problems by 33% and the risk for severe psychological distress such as depression or anxiety in childhood by 20%.
It can hinder school performance and induces all of the trauma of other separations like divorce, but with the added element of shame, guilt and stigma.  Not to mention the financial strain losing a parent indefinitely imposes and the massively increased odds of winding up in foster care it causes.
Don't forget that the financial strain is caused by more than the income reduction when a wage-earner goes to jail or prison. If the family wants to stay in touch and communicate with Dad or Mom in prison, the family has to pay for the communication. My husband's prison paycheck for a month's work--a little over $5--would pay for a couple of brief phone calls or a book of stamps. Not both. Email costs extra. A family trying to get by without Dad's income also needs to send him money in prison if they are to stay together as a family.
But maybe ... what we really need is a rethink of our entire criminal justice system, one that has become not only the nation’s biggest holding cell for people with addictions, but also its largest psychiatric system— albeit one that only rarely provides evidence-based treatment for either addictions or other mental illnesses.
We now lock up 10 times more people for drug offenses than we did in the early 80s; and while some drugs have gotten less popular, others have become more so, leaving us with roughly the same rate of severe addiction. Further, 48% of all state prisoners are nonviolent and at least half of their crimes are either drug crimes or directly related to drug use.  92% of all federal prisoners are nonviolent, with a full 48% sentenced to federal prison because of drug offenses.
Ninety-two percent of federal prisoners are nonviolent! Even I wouldn't have guessed it that high.
A tremendous amount of this incarceration is unnecessary and could easily be reduced by decriminalizing drug possession, legalizing marijuana, sentencing nonviolent offenders to house arrest and monitoring and only using prison to lock up those whose crimes genuinely warrant it for appropriate amounts of time.
It isn't enough to stand back and say if you can't do the time, don't do the crime. It is necessary to consider what should be a crime, why it should or shouldn't be a crime, and what appropriate punishments should be.
It isn't enough to let the legislators, Congressmen and Senators sort it all out. They are the reason we are at the point where Sesame Street has to send in Big Bird and Grover to clean up after the SWAT teams, federal marshals, and corrections officers.

UPDATE: I can't believe I missed the opportunity to use the heading, "Big Bird goes to the Big House."


sd said...

what a meaningful story, especially the part where the muppet's father is in jail...just makes me want to cry.

as for the drug decriminalization and marijuana legalization, there are lobbyists that side with the DEA because decriminalizing drugs and legalizing marijuana pretty much ruins the purpose of their jobs and (hopefully) the DEA might be decommissioned or combined with the ATF to form the Drugs, Firearms, Explosive (DFE, I made that up!) I mean if alcohol and tobacco are considered drugs then why did a DEA have to be created in the first place? they could have combined them all into one neat package I guess nixon didn't have his head on straight because of the watergate scandal

it seems as though the country is headed towards the legalization and decimalization path, several states have decriminalized or legalized marijuana recreational marijuana use already

Marie said...

The number of people who benefit financially from the prison industry is enormous. On top of the employees of the prisons, it includes the correction officers unions, the DEA, ICE, FBI, local law enforcement agencies, the therapists running court-required counseling programs... and that's just off the top of my head. They like the golden goose.

Colorado and Washington may have changed their laws but federal laws still apply there.

Katie Moore said...

Maybe their parents should think about their children before they DELIBERATLY commit the crime. They know the laws and are responsible for their actions. Adults in prison have put their own wants, needs, and problems before what is best for there children and that is the real problem!