Stop sending mothers and children to prison!

A mothers’ workshop at Oyam Prison

Today in Uganda, a leading headline reads, “24 children in prison with their mothers”. The article opens, “About 24 children are locked up in the seven prisons of Lira, Oyam, Kole, Alebtong, Otuke, Apac and Dokolo districts with their only crime being born to mothers suspected of breaking the law. Currently, there are 228 female inmates in the seven prisons.” The article concludes, “The prison population in Uganda is said to be growing at a 10 per cent rate annually. Currently, there are 284 children living with their mothers in 21 female prisons.” While Uganda’s prisons are notoriously overcrowded, with a recorded occupancy rate of 293% as of October 2016, more than half of whom are pre-trial or remand prisoners, the situation of mothers and children in prison is a global phenomenon. The global gulag has produced a global prison crèche and nursery. Children are the future.

While the issue of mothers behind bars has garnered increased attention, as witness this year’s Mother’s Day National Mama’s Bail Out Day campaign, the ever increasing global population of mothers with children in prison has not. In Uganda, the population of mothers incarcerated with children has grown steadily for the last ten years. According to the Turkish government, 560 children are in Turkish prisons along with their mothers. The children age just born to six years old. In 2014, 334 children were living with their mothers in Turkish prisons. Incarcerating innocent children is a major growth industry. In Kenya, hundreds of children under four live with their mothers in prison; in Bolivia over 1000 children do. In Cambodia, two years ago, the Prime Minister wanted to find a “solution” to children in prison with their mothers. Thus far, none has been found. Quite the opposite.

Around the world, where do children live? Increasingly, in prison. In 2008, the International Centre for Prison Studies reported that the following countries kept mothers and children together … in prison: England and Wales; Australia; Brazil; Canada; Denmark; Finland; Germany; Greece; Italy; Netherlands; New Zealand; Russia; Sweden; Switzerland; and the United States. Spain kept mothers and children together in “family” cells. No information was available for France, Japan, or, curiously Turkey. Of the 20 nation-states surveyed, only Norway said, NO.

In 2014, the Law Library of Congress’s Laws on Children Residing with Parents in Prison expanded the survey to 97 countries. Here’s their list of those who keep mothers and children together in prison: Algeria, Argentina, Australia, Belgium, Benin, Bolivia, Botswana, Burma/Myanmar, Burundi, Cambodia, Cameroon, Canada, Chile, Colombia, Côte d’Ivoire, Cuba, Denmark, Egypt, El Salvador, England and Wales, Ethiopia, Fiji, Finland, France, Greece, Guatemala, Haiti, Honduras, Hong Kong, Iceland, India, Indonesia, Iraq, Ireland, Israel, Italy, Jamaica, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kenya, Kiribati, Kuwait, Libya, Luxembourg, Malaysia, Malawi, Mali, Mexico, Morocco, Namibia, Nepal, New Zealand, Nicaragua, Nigeria, Oman, Pakistan, Papua New Guinea, Peru, Philippines, Portugal, Qatar, Russia, Samoa, Saudi Arabia, Sierra Leone, Singapore, Solomon Islands, South Africa, South Korea, South Sudan, Spain, Sri Lanka, Sudan, Swaziland, Sweden, Switzerland, Taiwan, Tanzania, Tonga, Trinidad and Tobago, Tunisia, Turkey, Tuvalu, Uganda, Ukraine, United Arab Emirates, Uruguay, Vanuatu, Venezuela, Yemen, Zambia, Zimbabwe. From A to Z, babies behind bars are everywhere.

None of this is surprising. Skyrocketing rates of incarceration for women, and especially younger women, means incarcerating more and more infants and children.

But it’s not inevitable: “Norway does not allow children to stay with their parents in prison. Instead, a new mother is housed outside of the penitentiary in a mødrehjem (home for mothers) until her child is old enough to be separated from her, generally around nine months of age. Mothers with young children and short sentences may serve their entire sentence at the home for mothers …. In general, the Norwegian prison policy reserves prison sentences for the most heinous crimes and attempts to avoid sentencing criminals to prison. Courts have also chosen to transform certain sentences from prison sentences to community service, generally in cases where mothers are convicted of drug offenses but have since been drug free and are caring for a small child. At the start of 2012, 255 women were incarcerated in Norway, of whom 187 were serving out the sentence in an alternative institution.”

Norway is taking this approach beyond its border, funding, for example, an `open prison’ for women and children in Lithuania. It’s not perfect, but it’s a step.

The State alibi for caging innocent children is the good of the child. What does that say about the world outside the prison, if the best place for an infant or young child is behind bars? What is justice, if sending a child to prison is fine and dandy, no matter how minor or negligible the mother’s so-called offense? Want to keep children out of prisons and jails? Imagine a world in which close to 75% of women convicted of criminal offense do not end up in prison. Imagine Norway.

 

(Photo Credit: Daily Monitor / Bill Oketch)

#ShutDownBerks: The mothers of Berks Family Detention Center demand justice now!

 


The United States built a special hell for immigrant women and children, Berks Family Detention Center. The only thing “family” about Berks are the lies the State promulgates: “U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement (“ICE”) established the Berks Family Residential Facility (“Berks”) in March 2001. Designed as a non-secure residential facility to accommodate the unique needs of undocumented children and their families, Berks became the first of its kind in the U.S. dedicated to keeping families and children together while undergoing immigration proceedings. Located in Leesport, PA, the eighty-five (85) bed facility that was once a nursing home is nestled in a quiet, small-town community. Berks … provides non-violent, non-criminal families with a variety of supportive services throughout their stay.” There is nothing supportive in or about Berks. That’s why the mothers of Berks Detention are on work strike. That’s why supporters will show up next Saturday, July 11, to demand the State shut it down … now.

While the U.S. immigration policy has swung back and forth between hang-em-high and hang-em-higher, the one constant since 2001 has been Berks Family Detention, and from the beginning it has been criticized for its inhumane treatment and general brutality towards its prison populations, largely women and children. Recently the women of Berks have been turning up the heat.

In April, seventeen mothers held, with their children, in Berks “camp” wrote a letter to ICE, demanding their release. ICE never responded. Cristina and her twelve-year-old son were held at Berks for 14 months: “When I started my journey to the US, all I could think about was keeping my son safe. But after several months locked up, my son didn’t even want to eat anymore. He cried all the time and kept telling me he wanted to leave, but he doesn’t understand the danger we’d face if we were sent back. He still wakes up shaking with nightmares from the trauma.” ICE continued to claim that Berks is top of the line.

On June 10, ten mothers launched a work strike. The women demand to be released and that Berks be shut down. They also demand the “free world” take responsibility for the systematic abuses taking place inside Berks: exploitation, harassment, violence. ICE continues to claim that Berks is top of the line … and perhaps it is, but it’s a line that must end today.

On Friday, June 19, at 3 a.m., one of the Mothers of Berks, 34-year-old Ana and her 12-year-old daughter were awakened and sent off to the airport, where they were whisked back to Guatemala. A judge has since ordered that Ana and her daughter be returned to the United States, citing a violation of “due process.” When Ana, in Guatemala, heard of the judge’s order, she responded, “I just want to come back.” Ana and her daughter. fled Guatemala because of partner domestic abuse. Ana and her daughter have already spent over a year in Berks.

The State tries to pass off “family detention centers” as an attempt to preserve the family, but the women and children inside those jails know better. They are prisons designed to punish immigrant women, overwhelmingly women of color, Latinas, indigenous from the Global South, for being women: “The treatment of immigrants … signals, both to immigrant communities, and to the neighbors and other citizens who observe them, that these families can be disrupted at will: children can be separated from their parents, parents can be deprived of their ability to care for or even to discipline their children without findings of inadequacy and without recourse. These families are in fact abjected: expelled from the community symbolically, before they are expelled concretely. They are reduced to beings for whom the quintessentially human imperatives of care and nurturance, and the possibilities of family formation and preservation, seem not to apply.”

As one mother inside Berks explained, “When I left the violence of my county, I never thought I would end up in a place like this. It is safer here, yes, but it is just as bad. I’m crying because I just want to leave. I don’t know when I will.” #ShutDownBerks. Do it now.

 

(Photo Credit: http://aldianews.com) (Image Credit: http://vamosjuntos.org)

Did Mother’s Day end early this year?

 

Mother’s Day seemed to end early and abruptly this year.

In Australia, under the proposed new national budget, women who have a child, otherwise known as mothers, face paying 30% more on student loans than their male counterparts. No matter that another government policy encourages women to have three children, one for ma, one for pa, and for the nation down the road: “These aren’t choices we force on men. These are penalties we extract from women, based on their gender.”

Speaking of penalties, this week, the Pennsylvania ACLU revealed that in Pennsylvania, pregnant women prisoners are routinely shackled, including during childbirth. Pennsylvania is one of the states that actually has a law, the Healthy Birth for Incarcerated Women Act, which prohibits this kind of treatment. That law was passed in 2010. The ACLU has written to the Attorney General of Pennsylvania asking her to `clarify the law.’

Speaking of clarifying the law, Marissa Alexander still can’t catch a break. For having shot once in the air and not endangered anyone, in order to ward off an abusive partner, Marissa Alexander still faces a possible 60 years behind bars. While her lawyers may have all sorts of new evidence, the prosecuting attorney says the evidence isn’t new enough and the judge is worried about the precedent set by having a second Stand Your Ground hearing. Happy Mother’s Day.

But for the women farmworkers of Immokalee, it may just be a Mother’s Day to celebrate. For the fourth year in a row, farmworker mothers, members of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers, stormed the ramparts of Publix, armed to the teeth with hope, a vision of a decent and dignified future for all, a dream of industrial democracy, and a letter, which read:

“May 11, 2014
Mother’s Day

To Publix:

We are farmworker women.  This is the fourth celebration of Mother’s Day in which we are writing to Publix to ask that you join the Fair Food Program.

As mothers, we work in the fields to support our families, especially to help our children through school.

As mothers, we do not make enough to fully support our family.  And the little that we do make is not easy to earn: We work under the sun and rain of Florida.  We do everything so that you can have tomatoes:  we plant, we tie up the plants, we harvest, and then we do it all again the next season.  In spite of all that, it seems that you do not understand and do not want to hear the voice of farmworkers.

Publix profits from the sweat of those of us who work in the fields.  We deserve respect and we deserve a fair wage.

Now is the time to join the Fair Food Program to protect the rights of workers and ensure a fair wage, with the penny per pound that 12 other corporations are already paying.  What are you waiting for, Publix?

Sincerely,

The Women’s Group of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers”

After deliver the letter, Lupe Gonzalo reported, “Publix presumes to say that they support families — but in reality, we don’t see this support. And we are not afraid to tell them that what they are saying is not true.  We are not afraid to come and protest in front of their stores.  Because we are speaking the truth, with our heads held high. For all of us, when we speak to our children, we tell them the truth.  And we tell them that Publix has not signed onto the Program because they are afraid.  Even children can see that.  But what does Publix say to its children?  Only lies?  Is that how they are educating their children?  That is not how we prepare our children for the future.”

Others, like Nely Rodriguez, mother of four, agreed. Now is the time!

Thanks to the work of women like Marissa Alexander, Lupe Gonzalo, Nely Rodriguez, maybe Mother’s Day didn’t end early this year, because, for them, the struggle of women continues, and that’s what Mother’s Day is all about.

 

(Photo Credit: Coalition of Immokalee Workers)

Domestics: A Blessing?

I had no idea. Despite limited activity on Saturday and Sunday. Despite eating every weekend dinner with my aunt. Despite extra trips to the grocery store. Despite added stress and limited sleep, it wasn’t until I was much older, did I finally have an idea that my mom was a domestic worker.

Starting when I was five years old, my mom started working every Saturday and Sunday evening cooking for an elderly couple. From 5:00pm until 8:30pm she’d stay at their home, preparing, cooking and serving dinner and dessert. She helped occasionally for several months, until the weekend cook left and she agreed to take her position and started working Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. She says she considered the job, “a blessing. I received good pay for what I did. They were good if I wanted to take time off. I could always switch things around with someone else that cooked. Also, they were in good health and I could prepare things for them before I left and they still had a nice meal the night I wasn’t there”.

When the wife passed away, my mom started working more evenings and by the time I went to college she was working five, sometimes even six nights a week. Then, “Everything was a different story. He took advantage of me and the other people helping him. I observed how he treated the woman that helps him during the day. He refused to buy her health insurance and he expanded her hours, but didn’t pay her for the extra time”, my mom said.

Often, the line between her personal space when she is or isn’t at his house is blurry. “Last week he called my office because he said he didn’t know where I was. He called simply because he thought he had a right to”, she says. “Sometimes he asks me to go early to spend extra time with him, but he never pays me the extra hours,” she says.

“Other times he’ll call me when he is in town and I’ll help him out with rides to where he needs to go. I feel like I’m doing him a favor because I’m fond of him, but then I realized he’d ask for help because he knew he didn’t have to pay us,” she explains.

Despite the fact they had a friendly relationship, when I asked her why she didn’t ask him for compensation for the additional work, she said, “I needed the job and I felt lucky to have it”.

He also makes her feel extremely guilty. “Sometimes he’ll make snotty comments. That’s stressful,” she explains. If she does something he doesn’t like he’ll “be quiet with me for weeks on end. I know he’s mad and not happy. It’s his way of staying in control. He’ll do anything to stay in control no matter what the impact is on our schedule, time or personal lives”, she explains.

Last Christmas my mom was with him on both Christmas Eve and Christmas night. “He’ll be thrilled I’ll be there Christmas Eve and he doesn’t care that I won’t be with my family”, she said. Although two of his grandchildren want to cook for him on Christmas Eve, his children decided my mom had to cook the holiday meal because they said she is a better cook.  “Just because I’d be better, I can’t be with my family,” my mom says.

My mom’s employer is ninety-four. Contemplating the day he’s gone leaves my mom with many mixed emotions. “As frustrated as I’ve gotten, I think about him being gone and it makes me sad”, she says. She knows she’s going to miss him.  “He’s the person I’ve had dinner with five days a week the past three years and for the past seventeen years we’ve eaten dinner together at least two nights a week” she says.  On the other hand, “I’ll be relieved when he’s gone. I feel guilty about that”, she says as she begins to cry. “Knowing no one will yell at me or put demands on me will be nice,” she says.

When I asked her to express her general sentiments of being a domestic care worker. She says she never considered herself domestic help.

I just never thought about it. In my mind, I think of domestic help as taking place in a different time. I know I’m a caregiver, but I never put myself in the context of domestic care worker. I was always so quiet about the job and I just did what I did. I just felt like I was there to cook dinner and do odds and end things around the house. He needed so little care, that he was just looking for company. I think falling into the job and not considering it a profession made me never think of it that way. It was just an extra job, extra money.

Maybe I couldn’t identify my mother as a domestic care worker because she doesn’t identify as a domestic care worker. The work of care workers is defined as the relationships and activities involved in maintaining people on a daily basis and intergenerationally. It often involves emotional, physical and “community care”. Just as my mother and I didn’t know, I assume there are many other domestic care workers throughout the world unaware of the position they serve. In order to ensure all domestic care workers receive fair and just working conditions it is imperative that they accurately recognize the work they do.

 

(Image Credit: National Domestic Workers Alliance)

The State `honors’ mothers while abusing their children

Yesterday, Sunday, May 8, 2011, was Mother’s Day in many parts of the world. Mothers were celebrated and honored. How does the State `honor’ mothers?

According to a recent report by the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development, or OECD, inequality among OECD countries is rapidly growing. Starting in the 1980s, the United States and the United Kingdom led the way in growth-through-inequality. Then the movement spread. Today, it rules the vast majority of OECD countries. Those are countries identified as wealthy and developed. Growing structural inequality has come to mean developed.

How are women honored in this development model? “Since the mid-1980s, women’s employment has grown much more rapidly than that of men. But many women work part-time and earn less which explains part of widening earnings gaps among the workforce. On average across the OECD, the share of part-time employment in total employment increased from 11% in the mid-1990s to about 16% by the late 2000s”.

Women have entered or been forced, or some combination thereof, into the jobs market. Many countries have followed the United States model in which public assistance, or welfare, has been cut and limited. There’s less money and the restrictions, especially the time restrictions, are severe. This toxic storm strikes single mothers particularly hard. Remove all supports and then create a labor market in which those with low or limited educational qualifications must work part-time for practically nothing. Eliminate public services, such as childcare and extended school programs. Even out-of-school suspension policies assault all working mothers, and particularly low- and no-wage mothers, and particularly single mothers.

If the women complain or try to unionize, they are reminded that there’s no assistance out there, that all the jobs available for `people like them’ are pretty much the same, and that they are women, mothers especially, who have near catastrophic household, and community, responsibilities. They are not reminded that, in the United States, union women earn 34% more than nonunion women.  That information wouldn’t be prudent.

The same period, early 1980s to the present, has witnessed increased incarceration of children. In Australia, the immigrant and asylum detention centers have been  “factories for producing mental illness”, and have been broadly criticized for caging children of migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, sometimes for long periods. What is the State response? Cover-up. Privatize. Outsource.

In the United Kingdom, children in custody die as a result of constraint methods.  One popular method is the tantrum hold, sure to result in injury 9 out of 10 times. In 2004, fifteen-year-old Gareth Myatt died of asphyxiation after being `tantrum held.’ Finally, an investigation into the constraint methods was conducted. That report was completed in May 2008 and presented to the government. What was the State response? Silence? Actually, it was worse in that it was more active. The State suppressed and hid the report. This Wednesday, three years later, the report will be made public.

In the United States, eleven states treat 17-year-olds charged with felonies as adults.  Illinois is one of the eleven states. A recent study of convictions in Illinois suggests that only 25% of the youths convicted with gun charges were ever actually identified as having the gun in question. In fact, of the cases studied, only 46% of them had any gun recovered.  Children were sent to adult prisons for gun possession in cases in which no gun was ever found, in cases in which the children in question were never identified as holding the gun in question. How does the State respond? The State legislature is debating a bill, right now, to reduce the age limit from 17 to 15 and 16, if convicted for gun possession. In Illinois, this is considered inclusion.

From Australia to the United Kingdom to the United States and beyond, the State incarceration of children and the State abuse of child prisoners is a direct assault on their adult guardians. Overwhelmingly, that assault targets women. Mothers. Grandmothers. Aunts. All of these women are mothers,  `a woman who undertakes the responsibility of a parent towards a child.”

Nation-States designed, or bought, economic development models that targeted vast numbers of women and children. The same States designed, or bought, justice programs that targeted vast numbers of women and children. Those State economic and justice models have devastated communities of color and low-income communities generally.

And yesterday those States honored women and celebrated mothers and motherhood? Rather call those State festivities `honor celebrations’, and invite them to sit at the same family table as honor killings. Mothers, and their children, can sit at other, better tables.

 

(Photo Credit: mylondondiary.co.uk)

Uganda is … “under attack”

Uganda is under attack and, as always, it’s the mothers of the nation who are to blame.

An Anti-homosexuality Bill has been tabled before the Parliament of Uganda. Many have risen to denounce and oppose it, both within the country and from across the globe.  Many others have risen to support it. Some in the Church have argued in favor of the capital punishment in the Bill, others have argued for life imprisonment. The ones arguing for life imprisonment are actually considered to be in opposition to the Bill. After all, in Uganda “homosexuality is already an offence under the Penal Code of Uganda as is same-sex marriage, which is prohibited by the Constitution.”

This is the logic of being-under-attack. As Michel Foucault put it, “Society must be defended”, and you, sir, madam, are not of society. You are a threat. Equally, you as a threat are a race, or better a sub-race. LGBTI people are being described as a public health threat, a moral threat, a national security threat, a spiritual threat, a pathogen. When, for example, the Archbishop of Uganda rallied his flock last year to protect him from the threat of the gay community, what did he say? ““The team of homosexuals is very rich, Archbishop  Henry Luke Orombi said, “They have money and will do whatever it takes to make sure that this vice penetrates Africa. We have to stand out and say no to them.” Sound familiar? If not, go to Nazi propaganda, especially in its early and middle years,  and see how the Jews, the Roma, the homosexuals and the disabled were described. Wealthy, a penetrating vice, infectious and infesting. Vermin.

The Bill was put forth and its campaign is spearheaded by Ugandan MP David Bahati. Some describe this whole situation as a convenient distraction for the government. Others see this as yet another sign that the government is filled with “purveyors of hate, who have no qualms about killing those who disagree with them or are unlike themselves. No doubt, they are more dangerous to the people of Uganda, than gays and lesbians.”

Not the good MP Bahati, however. He explains, in an interview published Sunday, November 1, that Uganda is under attack from the evil of homosexuality, that the “Anti-Homosexuality Bill is a nice piece of legislation. It is a consolidation of values of Ugandans and the country at large. It aims at holding the integrity of Ugandans high in the sky.” The nation is under attack, and now, so is Bahati: “ever since we tabled this Bill, we have come under attack. People have argued that we are promoting a hate campaign against homosexuals. And these attacks are coming mostly from civil society members who claim that homosexuality is a human right.

“These same groups have persistently continued to place this evil in the category of human rights. They have rallied people to resist the Bill. They argue that we are targeting homosexuals, we hate them. But some of the people behind these messages are mothers and respectable people in our country.

“Can you imagine mothers who are supposed to protect their children from abuses like sodomy are the very people protesting this Bill? Instead of protecting their children they are up in arms supporting abusers of these children! People who support this evil have endlessly started to threaten us.”

This is the logic of national-being-under-attack. What is at stake here? Motherhood. Mr. Bahati simply wants to save the mothers of Uganda … from themselves.

This is the all too familiar logic of being-under-attack, of protection and security. Hate is called love, violence is called peace, victims are called perpetrators, and love itself is called evil.

Remember the Call to Action: “Denounce this bill through a protest at a Ugandan Diplomatic Mission in your country on November 9th 2009, where applicable. Urge the Government of Uganda to reject this Bill in its entirety.” Uganda is…not under attack.

 

(Photo Credit: Uganda Beat)

Children of Incarcerated Mothers, or Albie Sachs haunts U.S. prisons!

Albie Sachs is a South African judge who haunts the U.S. prison system. Why? Because he is a decent human being, that’s why. He decided to listen to a woman colleague. He decided that primary caregivers of children should not be sent to jail. Here’s a version of the story:

“Albie Sachs…was fleetingly in the UK last week, primarily to tell the story behind the judgment he made in South Africa not to send a woman to prison because it would infringe the human rights of her three children.…

“Judges are the storytellers of the 21st century,” says 74-year-old Sachs….

At first sight, he had intended to throw out an appeal on behalf of Mrs M, who was facing four years in jail for up to 40 counts of credit card fraud that she had committed while under a suspended sentence for similar offences. “I remember drafting an extremely dismissive response. I said: ‘This doesn’t raise a constitutional question. She simply wants to avoid going to jail. She doesn’t make out a case, and her prospects of success are zero.’ “It was a female colleague…who insisted that the case be heard. She argued that the human rights of the accused woman’s children were not being looked at separately.

“She said: ‘There is something you are missing. What about the children? Mrs M has three teenage children. She lives in an area that we politely call fragile, an area of gangs, drug-peddling and a fair amount of violence. The indications are that she is a good mother, and the magistrate gave no attention to the children’s interests.’

“The minute my colleague spoke to me about the importance of the three teenage children of Mrs M, I started to see them not as three small citizens who had the right to grow up into big citizens but as three threatened, worrying, precarious, conflicted young boys who had a claim on the court, a claim on our society as individuals, as children, and a claim not to be treated solely as extensions of the rights of the mother, but in their own terms.”

As a result, Sachs created a legal precedent in 2007: a woman who otherwise would have gone to jail did not have to, because of her children’s rights. “We could have said the children’s rights must be considered but sent Mrs M to jail anyway, perhaps for a lesser term. But that would not have changed anything.”…

Although three judges dissented from the majority verdict, the precedent was set in South Africa that – at least in borderline cases – primary caregivers of children should not be sent to jail. And if the court decided to jail a primary caregiver, it had to take some responsibility for what happens to the children. “The court can’t simply say that she should have thought of that before she committed the offence, or that she can’t hide behind her children.”…

At the time he was drafting the judgment, Sachs did not know of any country that took the rights of offenders’ children into account, but he subsequently discovered that similar ideas were being framed in Scotland in a report by the then children’s commissioner, Kathleen Marshall. The report, Not Seen, Not Heard, Not Guilty, argues that the rights of offenders’ children to family life under the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child are systematically ignored by the court system. The report found that almost two-thirds of prisoners in the Cornton Vale women’s prison in Stirling had children under 18, but there was no provision to take their rights into account during sentencing.

“This was astonishing,” Sachs told the audience. “In a totally different legal system, in a totally different society, a conclusion was being reached that is almost identical. It showed that the time has come for new ways of thinking.””

Albie Sachs haunts the United States, home of “the incarceration generation”: “The chances of seeing a parent go to prison have never been greater, especially for poor black Americans, and new research is documenting the long-term harm to the children they leave behind. Recent studies indicate that having an incarcerated parent doubles the chance that a child will be at least temporarily homeless and measurably increases the likelihood of physically aggressive behavior, social isolation, depression and problems in school — all portending dimmer prospects in adulthood. “Parental imprisonment has emerged as a novel, and distinctly American, childhood risk that is concentrated among black children and children of low-education parents,” said Christopher Wildeman, a sociologist at the University of Michigan who is studying what some now call the “incarceration generation.” Incarceration rates in the United States have multiplied over the last three decades, in part because of stiffer sentencing rules. At any given moment, more than 1.5 million children have a parent, usually their father, in prison, according to federal data. But many more are affected over the course of childhood, especially if they are black, new studies show. Among those born in 1990, one in four black children, compared with one in 25 white children, had a father in prison by age 14. Risk is concentrated among black children whose parents are high-school dropouts; half of those children had a father in prison, compared with one in 14 white children with dropout parents, according to a report by Dr. Wildeman recently published in the journal Demography. For both blacks and whites, the chances of parental incarceration were far higher than they were for children born just 12 years earlier, in 1978.”

None of this is new, news or surprising. Cage the fathers, superexploit the mothers, forget the children. It’s simple. Put a nation of mothers behind bars, where too often there are no fathers or other guardians around and there is no public support, and you imprison the children. Where’s the surprise? Shackle pregnant women prisoners in labor and delivery, in the name of security. Are you surprised? This has all been said before. It’s common knowledge.

In South Africa, Albie Sachs acted. In Scotland, so did Kathleen Marshall. In the U.S., it’s time, it’s way past time, for similar action.

(Image Credit: http://childrenofprisoners.eu)