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View Diary: Can We Slip Some Other Justice News Between Celebrity Trials? (108 comments)

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  •  What kind of culture of life is this? (none)
    Markos - front page this one?  Fantastic, many-faceted post, MB, triggering an excellent discussion as well.

    I'm trying to find an overarching term or phrase that could label the issue I see emerging in this post, including the comments - it's much more than just juvenile justice, and more even than the justice system (so-called) as a whole.  

    It's one of the most horrible and wasteful aspects of our nation: the many ways we devalue, ignore, and wall off 'people in trouble,' whether it's children who've been neglected or abused, their struggling families, those accused of crimes, the homeless, or people needing treatment for drug abuse or mental illness.

    * * * *  

    What kind of `culture of life' is it that condemns such people in need, like they were detritus that we as a nation cannot bear to look at, to criminally undersupported social services and criminally abusive imprisonment?  I think it's time we proclaimed to the conservative churches, and the nation, that human life has a few more key features to it than mere existence, and that life's resilience and ability to overcome adversity - when given necessary support - is also worthy of honor and protection.  Many, though I won't say all, `people in trouble' who have hurt others also have the ability to undergo profound moral growth, as evidenced by the moving story MB recounts above.  

    But for every story such as MB's, how many could we tell of the `at risk' youth who was never reached, who was in effect abandoned, or at best ignored?  At what cost?  

    Instead of honoring life in its fullness and complexity, honoring the stories of development and reconcilation over those of fear and isolation, instead of cultivating our national community (and in the process substantially enhancing our public safety) we have, as wu ming pointed out above, a prison system which helped set us on the road to Abu Ghraib, one which takes people on the edge and locks them up in what is all too often a madhouse of brutality and corruption.   While some are so violent, psychopathic, or whatever else that long term imprisonment may be about the best thing we can do with them, how many of those who enter our prisons for the first time are really in that category?

    I forget who was citing this recently, but doesn't the bible say a whole lot more about visiting and otherwise caring about people in prison than it does about combatting the scourge of homosexuality?  What would our nation look like if more churches were willing to fight for `Life' in all its fullness, not just when it can be depicted as purely innocent?  

    And who among our leaders is courageous enough to be called `soft on crime' and fight for a better way?  I believe it could be framed as a practical matter, to reduce costs and improve public safety, but as far as I can tell prison reform as an issue vanished at some point in the 70s.

    * * * *

    Instead of honoring our children, we (in the state of California, where my wife is a social worker) fund the social services designed to protect them at perhaps 25-33% of what is needed.  According to a careful study that was recently done, it would take at least three times the current levels of resources to make a truly good faith effort (`implement best practices') to meet the needs of children who have been abused or neglected, and their families.  I believe that would still leave untouched innovative programs for prevention that are desperately needed.   Overall, children's social services in America, where workers frequently carry caseloads so large it is literally impossible for them to keep more than the most cursory track of the children under their care, are in a terrible state.  How can it be that we seem not to care?  Is it because so many of these children are poor?  

    This issue usually makes the news only when a child `in the system' dies, if then.  

    Howard Dean gets some of this, I know, and implemented some innovative programs to support children in Vermont.  

    So,  

    Where do we go from here?

    I will admit that I hoped, when I naively thought that the Abu Ghraib and associated scandals were too horrific to be buried so quickly (and of course before the election), that a sense of national shame and revulsion might actually spur us to confront some of the uglyness in our own domestic prisons.  

    But unless we can fight not just for electoral victories but to build a true social movement for national renewal, I don't see much hope of changing any of this in a substantial way.  On the flipside, I don't think we're really going to achieve the electoral victories we want without the social movement, either.  

    For the children, for the innocent, and - most challlenginly, but perhaps most critically of all - for those like the young man MB was who are filled with potential in danger of being lost, let us fight.

    I had to destroy my tinfoil hat because it was beaming coded messages into my brain.

    by stevelu on Tue Jun 14, 2005 at 12:38:31 PM PDT

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