According to a news release from the Children’s Defense Fund of Minnesota, about 300 people showed up in St. Paul today to call for an end to what they describe as Minnesota’s “cradle to prison” pipeline, “which traps and funnels thousands of minority youth in the state and across the country into the criminal justice system each year.”
They said poverty exacerbated by race was the major factor underpinning the “pipeline,” both in Minnesota and across the country. Lack of health coverage and quality early childhood and K-12 educations were also factors.
First, for the record, put me down as favoring the best possible life for kids today. Put me down as initially shocked by what appears to be the subtle — perhaps not too subtle — suggestion that because of poverty, some kids are almost predestined to end up in prison. The news release was accompanied by “key facts” that show an African American boy has a “1 in 3 chance of going to prison in his lifetime. A Latino boy has a 1 in 6 chance, and a white boy has a 1 in 17 chance.”
Because a black child is more than three times as likely as a white child to be born into poverty, and because the prison population is disproportionally black , the link between poverty and incarceration appears clear.
Where do the numbers come from? Apparently they come from a Bureau of Justice Statistics report on the prevalence of imprisonment in the U.S. population between 1974 and 2001.
The numbers were astounding; like 6.6% of the kids born in 2001 will go to prison sometime during their lifetime. The predictions for the future were based on a then-current pattern.
The question here, of course, is could the prisons be emptied if there were no gaps in early childhood development, if there adequate access to health coverage, equal access to educational opportunities, access to mental health care, and if the justice system weren’t overburdened? Oh, and if there weren’t some degree of racism in the criminal justice system in the first place?
It’s fair to guess that the answer would be “not completely,” but it wouldn’t make things any worse.
Still, what’s happened in the last 5 years — well after the report was written — is enough to make you think a little more about these simple connections. Earlier this month, NPR reported that the link between the economy and crime is now suspect, because there no longer appears to be nationwide trends in matters of crime. Some cities have seen downturns in crime; others have gone up. Nobody seems to have an easily reached conclusion anymore.
Indeed, in Minneapolis, according to statistics released today, violent crime is down 12% so far this year, homicides are down 22%, robberies are down 12%, rape is down 15% and property crimes are down 12%. And all of that is occurring while the economy tanks.
“The only question we’re asking is ‘is it getting worse?’” says David Kennedy of the Center for Crime Prevention and Control at John Jay College of Criminal Justice, “(And that) a place that’s terrible and not moving is OK, and that’s ridiculous.”
So while the economy is getting worse and crime is getting “better,” it may not entirely dismiss the link between poverty and crime.
On the other hand, the hyperbole surrounding a “cradle to prison” pipeline may not be entirely accurate, either. It also might not be entirely helpful to an end, feeding a negative picture of black men in America. Are there more black men in prison or in college? If one out of 3 is destined for prison, what do you think?
Chances are, you’re wrong.