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Old 10-25-2012, 12:43 PM   #1
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criminal justice

Yesterday evening, I took my daughter to the park in an affluent neighbourhood in the city. There were all these well-fed, well-cared for, happy children being pushed on the swings and led down the slides by dads who had obviously just got home from work, still in their business clothes with their shirt sleeves rolled up and their collars unbuttoned.

A little girl came up to me and cooed over DD, told me how much she loved babies and asked if she could push Jammy on the swing. She had a friend who was terrorising the park, taking joyrides on other kids bikes and strollers, completely oblivious to the kids and their helpless parents. I said of course.

It turned out that this little girl was also called Jamila. She was heart-stoppingly beautiful, cornrow braids done up with white clips, tiny and delicate. She pushed my Jamila on the swing and chatted to me. She was 5 years old. She loved babies and she wants babies when she grows up. She has four brothers. Her mum was sitting on a bench over there, but her dad was in jail.

I nearly started to cry right then and there, but I saved it until we were out of the park. It suddenly occurred to me that, despite knowing all about the disproportionate numbers of incarcerated black men, social justice, job prospects with a criminal record, moral panic over "deadbeat dads" etc. etc., it never occurred to me that these men have families who are being punished too. Mothers who are bringing up their kids without child support. Without childcare support. Little children dealing with the emotional trauma of social stigma, a loved one in jail, and an overworked, overstressed remaining parent. It's like debtor's prison in the 19th century. It seems barbaric.

This kid was beautiful and kind and sweet and charming - everything anyone could want in a daughter. And her life will be immeasurably harder than my own child's.

I can't even imagine the damage I would do to my daughter if I was stressed because her dad was in jail and unable to support us.

I don't have any suggestions or prescriptions for the system, beyond maybe a scheme where inmates could work for money to be sent home to their families. I guess this is a rambling post about how much MORE soul-crushing our society is than I had realised.

I know that people who break the law must be punished. I'm just sure there has to be a way to punish people without punishing their children as well.

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Old 10-25-2012, 01:27 PM   #2
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Re: criminal justice

I totally get what you're saying, I am that little girl (though maybe not as beatiful as you are describing). My dad was in and out of prison most of my life, even though my parents divorced prior to him going to prison, it was still heartbreaking to me each time. 3 times total 3 yrs sentenced, 18 months served all 3 times all charges were NON VIOLENT. He missed all 3 of his kids HS graduations one each time he was in prison, he missed school functions and special days, birthdays and holidays. We missed out on him. It sucked, but what else could be done, he broke the law and those are the consequences. We were taught ealry that is the way it goes, as kids, we never felt like him being in prison was for something he didn't do or didn't deserve. Growing up, my anger was towards him for being an idiot and not the justice system for putting him there.

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Old 10-25-2012, 02:42 PM   #3
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I think the best way to avoid the family being punished is for the offender to stop breaking the law.

I grew up in foster homes, with both of parents in and out of jail/rehab. It isn't the justice system's fault that I had a crappy childhood. The fault lies solely with my parents. They weren't breaking the law for a "noble" cause (stealing clothes to clothe us, stealing food to feed us, etc).
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Old 10-25-2012, 03:00 PM   #4
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Re: criminal justice

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Originally Posted by AnimalHouse View Post
I think the best way to avoid the family being punished is for the offender to stop breaking the law.

I grew up in foster homes, with both of parents in and out of jail/rehab. It isn't the justice system's fault that I had a crappy childhood. The fault lies solely with my parents.


It is a sad situation. But it's not the justice system's fault.
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Old 10-25-2012, 03:02 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by AnimalHouse
I think the best way to avoid the family being punished is for the offender to stop breaking the law.

I grew up in foster homes, with both of parents in and out of jail/rehab. It isn't the justice system's fault that I had a crappy childhood. The fault lies solely with my parents. They weren't breaking the law for a "noble" cause (stealing clothes to clothe us, stealing food to feed us, etc).
Exactly. It is very sad for the children but adults need to grow up and act like adults. There are LOTS of people who just are not mature and responsible enough to be having children and it is the kids that suffer. It isn't the systems fault. It is the fault of the parents.
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Old 10-25-2012, 03:07 PM   #6
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Re: criminal justice

Quote:
Originally Posted by AnimalHouse View Post
I think the best way to avoid the family being punished is for the offender to stop breaking the law.

I grew up in foster homes, with both of parents in and out of jail/rehab. It isn't the justice system's fault that I had a crappy childhood. The fault lies solely with my parents. They weren't breaking the law for a "noble" cause (stealing clothes to clothe us, stealing food to feed us, etc).
Well, yes - but that doesn't change the fact that we effectively have a system that punishes whole families for the sins of the father, as it were. It goes against every principle of equitable justice, and I never see it being talked about.

From what I can see, criminal justice conversations are dominated by outrage over the institutionalised racism and classism of incarceration rates and police exposure: the sheer numbers of people in prison for non-violent crime, the effects of incarceration for recidivism, the disenfranchisement for incarcerated people, the racial disparities, the social prospects for convicted and incarcerated people on release.

All of these things affect the offender him/herself, and they are huge, and hugely important. But it had genuinely never occurred to me running parallel to these dilemmas is a really ugly social effect that makes all our deeply held convictions about individual responsibility, etc, farcical. And it makes me wonder *why* it's never talked about, and whether there is an alternative model of criminal accountability that doesn't have the same devastating effect on innocent and vulnerable members of our society.
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Old 10-25-2012, 03:11 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by jam's mum

Well, yes - but that doesn't change the fact that we effectively have a system that punishes whole families for the sins of the father, as it were. It goes against every principle of equitable justice, and I never see it being talked about.

From what I can see, criminal justice conversations are dominated by outrage over the institutionalised racism and classism of incarceration rates and police exposure: the sheer numbers of people in prison for non-violent crime, the effects of incarceration for recidivism, the disenfranchisement for incarcerated people, the racial disparities, the social prospects for convicted and incarcerated people on release.

All of these things affect the offender him/herself, and they are huge, and hugely important. But it had genuinely never occurred to me running parallel to these dilemmas is a really ugly social effect that makes all our deeply held convictions about individual responsibility, etc, farcical. And it makes me wonder *why* it's never talked about, and whether there is an alternative model of criminal accountability that doesn't have the same devastating effect on innocent and vulnerable members of our society.
I don't have any statistics but I bet lots of children of incarcerated parents are receiving government aid equal to or probably greater than what the criminal parent would have contributed anyways to the child even if they were out in the streets.
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Old 10-25-2012, 03:16 PM   #8
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Re: criminal justice

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Exactly. It is very sad for the children but adults need to grow up and act like adults. There are LOTS of people who just are not mature and responsible enough to be having children and it is the kids that suffer. It isn't the systems fault. It is the fault of the parents.
I disagree. 1, because I think it's the system that breeds criminal behaviour, not least because of the effects of incarceration on families, but that's a separate issue.

2. because this is a systemic response to an already established fact, namely, a parent with responsibilities towards a child has broken the law. I think the justice system should *acknowledge* that fact, and institute some recognition and restitution for the effects it has on innocent and vulnerable people, instead of ignoring it and pretending to adhere to principles of individual responsibility.

3. social systems *shouldn't* make or let children suffer as byproducts and collateral damage.

Children are vulnerable and deserve our protection. Every social institution should have them in mind, because they are affected by things outside their control, and they have no redress.
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Old 10-25-2012, 03:36 PM   #9
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Don't forget how many children ARE being protected by having a parent in prison. Protected from being beaten or neglected. Protected from having daddy steal the grocery money to get a fix and going hungry. Protected from the company some unlawful members of society keep. Protected from situations that caused the parent to go to jail. Protected from a crappy parent. Been there, done that. And I preferred the safety of no parent over the abuse of a present one.

And honestly, if they don't follow the major laws, do you really believe they would be paying child support if they were out? The majority wouldn't. If they're in for the long haul, they did some majorly bad things. And people on those paths don't usually care about anything but their own self.

Is it sad? Of course. But if the option is daddy on the corner selling drugs, bringing home gang buddies, and roughing up mama or him not being there, the kid is far better off without him or that

ETA: It isn't the system punishing the family. It's the parent punishing the family. If they didn't do the things that got them locked up, the system wouldn't come knocking on their door. The system is warped, I'll give you that. But the fault still lies with the parent. It isn't the system's job to provide for the families or make that an option when they're locked up. It's the parent's job to make sure that is done. And if that means not breaking the law, they need to not do it.

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Old 10-25-2012, 03:47 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Hillargh
Don't forget how many children ARE being protected by having a parent in prison. Protected from being beaten or neglected. Protected from having daddy steal the grocery money to get a fix and going hungry. Protected from the company some unlawful members of society keep. Protected from situations that caused the parent to go to jail. Protected from a crappy parent. Been there, done that. And I preferred the safety of no parent over the abuse of a present one.

And honestly, if they don't follow the major laws, do you really believe they would be paying child support if they were out? The majority wouldn't. If they're in for the long haul, they did some majorly bad things. And people on those paths don't usually care about anything but their own self.

Is it sad? Of course. But if the option is daddy on the corner selling drugs, bringing home gang buddies, and roughing up mama or him not being there, the kid is far better off without him or that

ETA: It isn't the system punishing the family. It's the parent punishing the family. If they didn't do the things that got them locked up, the system wouldn't come knocking on their door. The system is warped, I'll give you that. But the fault still lies with the parent. It isn't the system's job to provide for the families or make that an option when they're locked up. It's the parent's job to make sure that is done. And if that means not breaking the law, they need to not do it.

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Excellent post. My parents were drug addicts. When they had custody of us, we were neglected, abused. We had no food, no clothes, no one to care if we were taken care of. To think a different system would make criminal parents change their ways because of their kids makes no sense to me, as someone who has lived through that.
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