A ‘cradle to prison’ pipeline in Minnesota?

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.

  • GregS

    I always get grouchy when I run across the periodic press releases from the Children’s Defense Fund. CDF is little more than an advocacy/lobbying front for a number of social service organizations and agencies.

    They are the kind of Industrial Complex Eisenhower warned us about in his farewell address. At the time of his speech. The War On Poverty had yet to be declared, so Eisenhower only knew about the about Military/Industrial Complex. If he had known about the scale of the coming domestic war, he would have warned us about all government groups that seek to guilt or frighten society into spending national treasure mismanaging the wrong war.

    For forty years we have been told we can triumph over poverty if we wage a war of social spending. In that time we spent $20 Trillion on social programs, yet poverty lingers around 12%, same as it was in the early 1970’s.

    Isn’t it about time that we ask penetrating questions about the strategy and tactics of this war on poverty?

    Let’s start here.

    - How can a family with little education and no health care coverage leave abject poverty in Guatemala, cross two hostile national borders, and still thrive in a racist country where they do not speak the language?

    - How can so many families from Minneapolis who enjoy the full benefits of Federal, State, Metropolitan, Country, City and Charitable resources fall into the dysfunctional behaviors of crime and drug addiction?

    Those are interesting questions. In view of the two prior questions, let’s ask three more.

    - Are the agencies represented by the CDF spending our national treasure on the right things?

    - Do they have the right goals?

    - The right plans?

    - The right means of measuring success?

    - The right methods for changing what does not work?

    But most importantly:

    - What is the role of culture in the behavior and expectations of the family from Guatemala versus the family from Minneapolis?

    - Why are Federal, State, Metropolitan, Country, City and Charitable agencies not focusing on culture and attitudes?

  • GregS

    From Bob’s last link.

    A Filmmaker’s Attempt To Peel Off the Labels

    In 2005, according to the Census Bureau, there were 864,000 black men in college. According to Justice Department statistics, there were 802,000 in federal and state prisons and jails, “even with the old heads holding on,” Morton says.

    Between the ages of 18 and 24, however, black men in college outnumber those incarcerated by 4 to 1.

    Damned glad you found this, Bob. It needs to be said – LOUDLY.

    I am stunned by how many people fail to realize that the majority of black families are middle-class.

  • bsimon

    “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.”

    What I’m most curious about is where our money is best spent. Assuming the goal is to maximize the collective pursuit of life, liberty & happiness, while minimizing cost – is it cheaper & more efficient to spend money on education & healthcare or on cops & prisons?

  • Bob Collins

    //cheaper & more efficient to spend money on education & healthcare or on cops & prisons?

    That question is usually presented as an either-or. Should it be? Are there other approaches?

  • brian

    Without having done any reasearch into it myself, it seems to me that cops and prisons would have to be a whole lot cheaper to win out (if it is truely and either/or). Increasing education and healthcare has the potential to increase everyone’s life, liberty & happiness, whereas cops and prisons seem like a zero sum game to me: you increase the happiness of some people by taking away the liberty of others.

    This is what worries me about the increasing divide between the left and the right: Neither has a good solution. The solution that will work is somewhere in between. Or maybe one side has the best solution to some problems and the other has the best solution to others. But niether gets done because of partisan infighting.

  • GregS

    At least from my experience, the question of Education/Healthcare vs. cops/prison is the wrong debate.

    We spend close to $18,500 a year per student in Minneapolis. Does anyone actually believe spending $10,000 a year more would achieve better results? Would spending that addition sum really lower the drop out rate?

    The problem is — we ask each other, not the person who can actually answer the question.

    Only a 13 year old kid surrounded by toxic culture can provide anything close to an answer.

    What we need to ask is — what will it take to get you to change your attitude and value education and the prospect of life that the mainstream considers successful?

    The truth is, kids cannot answer those question. All they do is follow what they believe to be an image of success that is popular with their peers.

    If that image is the gangsta life – that is what they will do and all the money and good intentions in the world are not going to change them.

  • GregS

    This is what worries me about the increasing divide between the left and the right: Neither has a good solution. The solution that will work is somewhere in between. Or maybe one side has the best solution to some problems and the other has the best solution to others. But niether gets done because of partisan infighting.

    Dead on accurate, Brian.

    Each side of this debate frantically waves its arms to draw attention, crying “Fund me!!” “Fund me!!” But the answer does not reside between them in the middle, it resides in another dimension.

    Commentator and Linguist John McWhorter placed the problem succinctly into a story from his childhood. He spoke of getting beat-up for pronouncing the word “concrete” correctly.

    He went on to describe the toxic culture of anti-success; one that seizes children who rise, and drags them back into failure.

    McWhorter is black and he suffered from the pull of the underclass, but poor urban blacks do not have a lock on toxic culture, it is just as prevalent among other racial and ethnic groups in other neighborhoods.

    On the flip side, some Asian/American and Jewish subcultures work in the opposite direction; there children are picked on for mispronouncing the word “concrete”.

  • GregS

    This is what worries me about the increasing divide between the left and the right: Neither has a good solution. The solution that will work is somewhere in between. Or maybe one side has the best solution to some problems and the other has the best solution to others. But niether gets done because of partisan infighting.

    Dead on accurate, Brian.

    Each side of this debate frantically waves its arms to draw attention, crying “Fund me!!” “Fund me!!” But the answer does not reside between them in the middle, it resides in another dimension.

    Commentator and Linguist John McWhorter placed the problem succinctly into a story from his childhood. He spoke of getting beat-up for pronouncing the word “concrete” correctly.

    He went on to describe the toxic culture of anti-success; one that seizes children who rise, and drags them back into failure.

    McWhorter is black and he suffered from the pull of the underclass, but poor urban blacks do not have a lock on toxic culture, it is just as prevalent among other racial and ethnic groups in other neighborhoods.

    On the flip side, some Asian/American and Jewish subcultures work in the opposite direction; there children are picked on for mispronouncing the word “concrete”.

  • Bob Collins

    Might the solution be that there’s not one solution? Quite often, it feels as thought we’re looking for THE answer. Maybe it’s a combination

  • bsimon

    “That question is usually presented as an either-or. Should it be? Are there other approaches? ”

    No, it shouldn’t be. But it usually is framed as such in the political debate. The problem is that politicians campaign on being ‘tough on crime’ and pour money into the cops & prisons. But schools, education and basic healthcare are demonized as wasteful spending. Uh, hello?? To whom does it make more sense to spend money on incarcerating criminals, rather than focusing on developing the life skills in our population that will produce more productive people? Its ridiculous & short sighted that we cut funding that helps the people most in need while never questioning the funding that pays for the long term results of the earlier decisions.

  • GregS

    But schools, education and basic healthcare are demonized as wasteful spending. Uh, hello?? To whom does it make more sense to spend money on incarcerating criminals, rather than focusing on developing the life skills in our population that will produce more productive people?

    Are schools really capable of developing life skills?

    Again in Minneapolis we spend $18,500 a year on each kid, almost as much as the most expensive private schools in the state.

    Yet half the kids drop out.

    Obviously SPENDING on education is not working.

    Each side of this debate frantically waves its arms to draw attention, crying “Fund me!!” “Fund me!!” But the answer does not reside between them in the middle, it resides in another dimension.

    Commentator and Linguist John McWhorter placed the problem succinctly into a story from his childhood. He spoke of getting beat-up for pronouncing the word “concrete” correctly.

    He went on to describe the toxic culture of anti-success; one that seizes children who rise, and drags them back into failure.

    McWhorter is black and he suffered from the pull of the underclass, but poor urban blacks do not have a lock on toxic culture, it is just as prevalent among other racial and ethnic groups in other neighborhoods.

    On the flip side, some Asian/American and Jewish subcultures work in the opposite direction; there children are picked on for mispronouncing the word “concrete”.

  • bsimon

    GregS writes

    “All they do is follow what they believe to be an image of success that is popular with their peers.

    If that image is the gangsta life – that is what they will do and all the money and good intentions in the world are not going to change them.”

    The question seems to be: why do these kids believe a ‘gangsta life’ is their only path to success?

  • bsimon

    “Obviously SPENDING on education is not working.”

    Hogwash. You could make the argument that the education system is not meeting the needs of our society. On that you would receive no argument from me. But to ague that its the spending on education that is not working implies that the best alternative is to not spend on education – which is a clearly ridiculous argument to make. Surely that was not your intention?

  • GregS

    The question seems to be: why do these kids believe a ‘gangsta life’ is their only path to success?

    The gansta lifestyle is not the “only” path to success, but it is the prefered and most glamorous one.

    The instant their peers begin mocking gansta lifestyle, the whole thing will instantly vansish.

    But to ague that its the spending on education that is not working implies that the best alternative is to not spend on education – which is a clearly ridiculous argument to make

    We hit the point of diminishing returns in education, years and ten thousand dollars per student ago.

    The world is not a bi-polar place where we either starve our school or waste money on education.

    I would hope that when we spend as much on public schools as is spent on the most elite public K-12 schools in the state, which we do, that we could expect something better than a 50% drop out rate.

  • brian

    “I would hope that when we spend as much on public schools as is spent on the most elite public K-12 schools in the state, which we do, that we could expect something better than a 50% drop out rate.”

    GregS: What should we change to get a lower drop out rate?

  • GregS

    I don’t think there is much the schools can do. Of course, that does not mean there is nothing the schools can do, it just means much of the problem is out of their control.

    The first thing schools can do is reintroduce segregation. No, not the nasty black/white racial segregation of yesteryear but a more modern insulation of kids from toxic culture. The kids with attitude and behavioral problems need to kept away from kids who have a chance.

    But then kids leave the school house – and they are right back out there with a neighborhood full of toxic peers.

    The most effective tool we have is Hollywood and MTV and BET… These guys should launch a long, sustained campaign of mockery against gangster losers and the morons who are dragging their peers down.

    That is the closest thing we have to any kind of solution —- launch a cultural war against the desirability of being under-class.

  • GregS

    I wrote in the prior comment about the reintroduction of segregation in schools, a segregation based on behavior not race or class.

    This is precisely what Finland does.

    Here is an article on it from The Economist. Finding the secret to educational success

  • Sean Stewart

    Obviously SPENDING on education is not working.

    This is what frustrates me most. When it comes to the budget for education we are spending it in the wrong areas. The critical years of a child’s development is birth to age 5. A child learns many of the key life skills during this period. If we are not assuring that a child has a healthy start, a fair start, a safe start and a moral start, we are setting them up for failure. In the Saint Paul School Public School District, they will pass a child to the next grade without them aquiring the neccessary skills to be successful in the following year. Once a child is behind, alot of teachers let that child fall further and further behind. I teach preschool in the mornings and work in an afterschool program for African American childfren in the evenings. Many of the children in the after school program are not at the develomental nor age apporopriate level they should be. Yes, this is partially the parents responsibility, but also the teachers. Far too many African American children are growing up without father figures. Many of these children are young boys. The boys have a hard time learning to be men in a single parent home. They have no positive role models to look up to, so they look for guidance in the music videos, or the movie screen. Mass media tends to be the role model for young African American boys. Also, the media rarely shows positive images of African Americans. This is a difficult subject to debate about, especially when you are not directly involved in the African American community. The Cradle to the Prison Pipeline is a reality in the African American commmunity. For it to be said that the pipeline does not exist, it’s just like saying police brutality doesn’t exist. It is easy for someone that is not familiar with the issues in the community to comment on what is working and what is not. The question is, what are you going to do about these issues?

  • Sean Stewart

    I also want to stress the fact that the low population of African American teachers is another key issue. If you had a prodominently caucasian student body with 90% of the teachers being African American do you think that they would relate completely to those children? You would be interested in diversifying the staff. Correct?

  • martinrobinson

    Rich people don’t wannna communicate with anyone outta there class, and how can this government even take any credit for a job well done when we have people in the gulf coast still living in fema trailers 3 yrs after katrina!!! but The PARTY’S ON AT THE RNC