Posted on June 22, 2018

The Family Separation Crisis Isn’t Over for Black Parents

Patrick A. Coleman, Fatherly, June 21, 2018

One in every nine black children in America has a parent in jail. {snip}

Of the estimated 70 million children growing up in America right now, some 5 million have had a parent in prison. And these children are increasingly finding their way into the child welfare system. Between 2012 and 2016, the number of children removed from their homes in the wake of sexual abuse, physical abuse, abandonment, and caretaker death decrease. The number of children removed from their homes in the wake of a parent’s incarceration went up by 5.6 percent.

The suffering is heavily correlated with race. Six percent of white children have had a parent in prison compared to 11.5 percent of black children, meaning it’s about twice as likely for a black kid to have a parent behind bars. It’s no wonder: A full 40 percent of the prison population is black, despite representing only 13-percent of the population of the United States. Why are they there? One in five inmates were incarcerated due to a drug offense, most likely possession (there were six times more arrests for possession between 1980 and 2015 than there were for drug sales). Prison are disproportionately black because black people are disproportionately arrested for drug crimes and disproportionately jailed for them.

And it’s not as if black parents are more likely to be criminals than any other parent. Rather, the judicial system has been rigged against them. Consider the crack epidemic of the 1990s when mandatory sentencing guidelines for possession of crack cocaine were put in place. Sentencing guidelines required that a conviction of distributing 5-grams of crack carry a 5-year minimum federal prison sentence. Meanwhile, to receive the same sentence for the no-less dangerous powdered cocaine, a defendant would have to distribute 500 grams. Whites accounted for just 7 percent of defendants in crack cases, despite accounting for 66 percent of crack users at the time. Blacks, on the other hand, accounted for 80 percent of defendants in crack cocaine cases despite being far less likely to use crack cocaine. The black defendants were also likely to be non-violent, low-level offenders.

{snip} One recent study found that for the exact same crime, blacks are still likely to see a 19-percent longer sentence than whites. And that’s at the end of a long chain of unequal justice. Black neighborhoods are more likely to be policed than white neighborhoods. Blacks are more likely to be profiled and pulled over for minor traffic violations. They are also more likely to be held in jail prior to trial rather than being released. And it all means that there are more black children with a parent behind bars.


{snip} But parents are incarcerated for a number of reasons — most entirely legal. They are caught up in a system rather than a program. Systems change incrementally — the criminal justice system doubly so. (It doesn’t help that for-profit prisons have a healthy lobbying presence in D.C.).