Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Childrens Defense Fund's Edelman at JCU:
Jail is Fast Becoming New Form of Slavery

With America stubbornly refusing to spend the relatively modest amounts it would take to make it a developed nation insofar as meeting the basic needs of poor children, incarceration is becoming the new form of slavery in this country, the Childrens Defense Fund's Marian Wright Edelman said last week in an appearance at John Carroll University.

The Plain Dealer publicized her March 13th visit in a brief squib beforehand, but apparently never covered her remarks.

Her visit was part of the usual multiculti affairs sort of thing, but it drew an impressive crowd of at least 200. And this is an institution, unfortunately, in much need of her message. John Carroll's new president is said to be particularly embarrassed by a couple of high-profile racial incidents on campus soon after he took over, and he recently announced a plan to fund 100 inner-city high school kids on full scholarships, by far the most ambitious move JCU has ever made in that direction. It's all the more impressive because it comes at a time when the university is being forced to cut its budget.

But neither that new minority scholarship investment nor the university's decision to sponsor City Club programs (another good move, I think) will be enough in themselves to get this university fully engaged with the region's challenges, as any self-respecting Jesuit institution should and must be. The Gund Foundation's #2 official, Bob Jaquay, a JCU graduate, has been known to complain that John Carroll is just "not part of the conversation" about the region (he should know--he's in the middle of most of it). And downtown Cleveland councilman Joe Cimperman, also a John Carroll grad, once told me how disappointed he was in then-president Ed Glynn for having wasted a meeting with then-Cleveland Mayor Jane Campbell, which he had arranged, mostly chit-chatting about trivia.

Edelman's group, the Children's Defense Fund, is spending considerable time in Ohio just now. In June, it expects to release a report, to be called "The Cradle to Prison Pipeline," which uses Ohio as one of just two states being examined for the way it incarcerates minorities. She gave an early peak at the findings: "Ohio ends up not looking good at all. I hope you'll raise a ruckus."

The CDF's founder said "we're criminalizing children at earlier and earlier ages, who clearly just need some help." She said that some juvenile judges her organization has talked to say they sometimes can't initially see the kids they're sentencing, because they're not old enough or tall enough to appear above the sightline of the bench.

Edelman, who is married to the one-time JFK aide Peter Edelman (who once resigned his post as assistant secretary for health and human services in the Clinton administration in protest over welfare reform), drew applause when she complained that the U.S. can find $8.8 billion in next year's budget for the failed "Star Wars" missile defense program but not enough to meet poor childrens' basic needs. "We do not have a money problem in America, but we do have a morals and values problem...The budget is really the rorschach test--you just follow the money, and you'll find out what we really believe." She drew the largest applause of the evening when she decried Republican attempts to replace federal poverty programs with charity. "The Constitution doesn't say 'with liberty and charity for all.' It says 'with liberty and justice...'"

President Bush's "faith-based" initiative program, she concluded, is just one big shell game. "They're taking it from one place (in the budget) and putting it in another. Meanwhile, they're cutting tens of billions of dollars from the safety net."


At 10:35 AM, Blogger Jill said...

Thanks for this, John.

I once thought that I would work at CDF, especially after it opened its Cleveland office (which I believe was headed by Lolita McDavid at one point? but later contracted to just a phone number now? I'm not sure) and I'd earned my joint degree. But that never happened.

Still, I've followed Edelman and the organization since the mid-80s and, like the PhD I say I'm going to get someday, I haven't quite snuffed out the idea of trying to do work for or with or akin to what CDF does.

Any thoughts on why her comments were covered in MSM?

At 10:44 AM, Blogger writelife said...

John -- Always a good read. Thank you for the information!

At 11:18 AM, Blogger Wendy Hoke said...

Bellefaire/JCB had an innovative program operating in Lorain County that seeks to divert children from jail and instead address underlying mental health issues. Just wrote about it in the 2005 BJCB annual report.

The Juvenile Offender Program began five years ago as a federally funded program that trained juvenile judges, probation officers and detention home staff to identify mental health behaviors vs. bad behavior. Federal funding has since (of course) run out, but the Lorain County Mental Health Board continues to fund the program with the help of Bellefaire's residential treatment program.

Thanks for following up on this very important topic.

At 1:42 PM, Blogger Daniella said...

Very provocative thought to compare jail to slavery but I think it flies.

We bloggers often talk about the digital devide but what about the economic devide? Talk about a gap!

At 5:01 PM, Blogger John Ettorre said...

Ladies, thanks for the comments. It was news to me that CDF once had a Cleveland presence, Jill. And whether or not you ever get around to that Ph.D. (our generation has unfortunately had it drilled into us to always worry about the initials after our names) I think you'll manage to figure out what to do with all that lifelong learner intellectual energy of yours. Writing is the best form of learning ever, and it can actuall pay you rather than you having to come up with the tuition. What's not to like in that equation. And K, I'm glad to see you've managed to give us the first authorized human sightings of the boyfriend. Those photos said it all.

At 1:47 PM, Blogger Wendy Hoke said...

Dearest, John,
If you read Kristen's post again I think you'll see that those photos are not of her boyfriend, but of her fiance. Pretty big news for our friend.


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