As a guardian ad-Litem speaking for voiceless children born into toxic and violent homes, placed in overburdened child protection systems, and finally into court systems and prisons, I have been thinking about public policy making. Designing public policy to accomplish certain goals is an important and difficult process that needs public discourse. Institutions are defined by what they actually do (as opposed to what we claim they do.) We the people, as in the voting citizenry need to appreciate our role in the political process that creates public policy. Schools, Juvenile Justice, Child Protection, Police departments, Courts, and Criminal Justice systems are supposed to work together to foster the development of children and keep our communities safe and livable. 44% of African American men living in Hennepin County were arrested in 2001.
No duplicate arrests (in fact 58% of those men went on to be rearrested within two years.) With only 4% of the worlds population, America has 25% of the worlds prison population. America’s prison recidivism rate remains at about 66%. Five of America’s largest cities have African American adult male populations with a 50% unemployment ratio.
Those same cities have an ex offender ratio of over 50% among the same population. Almost 13% of all African American men can’t vote because they are felons. It’s almost impossible for a felon to procure meaningful work at decent wages. 48% of African American High School boys dropped out of Minneapolis Public schools in 2001.
Almost half of African American boys are in special needs classes or treated for emotional or mental health problems. The cost of one child dropping out of school into a life of crime is estimated at between one million five hundred thousand dollars and ten million dollars. Creating public policies that help ensure literacy and high school graduation is within our grasp. Twenty other industrialized nations have done it much better than we have. Minnesota spends 5.3 times more money per prisoner than per public school student and we have one prison staff member for each 5.4 inmates. Minnesota prisons have been growing faster than almost any other segment of our state these last few years (averaging over 12% growth per year for the last 2 years.) America ranks 91st among the other nations in staff to student ratios (there are only twenty other industrialized nations.) Is this an intelligent design for our institutions or a fair approach to public policy? If the idea is to create systems that fill our courts, prisons, and public schools with people of color with poor educations and mental health problems, then we are doing very well indeed. If we want public policy that makes for safe streets, high functioning schools and youth, and a return to the superior quality of life indices that this nation maintained from after the second world war to the end of the 1970’s, it seems a longer term and more studied approach needs to be taken. Pliny the elder, 2500 years ago, “what you do to your children, they will do to your society”
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