Unearned Social Disadvantages – Incarcerated Parents

This New York Times article on the consequences of parental incarceration on children highlights issues that are not new to criminologists:

Todd Krohn is correct to call these children "the collateral damage of the war on drugs."

That quote from the Manhattan Institute person reminded me of a passage in The Spirit Level:

"We’ve seen that imprisonment rates are not determined by crime rates so much as by differences in official atittudes towards punishment versus rehabilitation and reform. In societies with greater inequality, where social distances between people are greater, where attitudes of ‘us and them’ are more entrenched and where lack of trust and fear of crime are rife, public and policy makers alike are more willing to imprison people and adopt punitive attitudes towards the ‘criminal elements’ of society. More unequal societies are harsher, tougher places. And as prison is not particularly effective for either deterrence or rehabilitation, then a society must only be willing to maintain a high rate (and high cost) of imprisonment for reasons unrelated to effectiveness.

Societies that imprison more people also spend less of their wealth on welfare for their citizens. This is true of the US states and also OECD countries. Criminologists David Downes and Kirstine Hansen report that this phenomenon of ‘penal expansion and welfare contraction’ has become more pronounced over the past couple of decades." (155)

Indeed, the folks at the Manhattan Institute could not care less about the children with incarcerated parents. It is the kind of organization that would oppose public spending on social programs, so, it is not clear what "everything possible" means beyond phony concern and perfunctory lip service before moving on to the real argument: protect "the other children" or some vague notion of "community" against the criminals.

So, the idea that more unequal societies harsher and tougher places applies not just to crime-ridden communities but also to the not-so-benign neglect that the children of incarcerated parents experience. And if, unsurprisingly, they end up lock up as well, it will only be used to prove a "deviant culture" that promote criminal behavior in "these people" rather than the imposition of social disadvantages onto the next generation as part of larger social reproduction of inequalities.

2 thoughts on “Unearned Social Disadvantages – Incarcerated Parents

  1. FYI-there’s a great organization in Chicago called CLAIM – Chicago Legal Advocacy for Incarcerated Mothers. They do great work for the mothers and also their kids.

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