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Julianne Malveaux

Women in Prison: What About the Children?

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(NNPA) There are more than 200,000 women who are currently incarcerated, 115,000 in federal or state prisons and 99,000 in local jails. Nearly one million women are on probation – representing 26 percent of those on probation and 98,000 are on parole. Women’s incarceration has grown by more than 800 percent in the last three decades, while men’s incarceration has not grown as rapidly. African American women’s incarceration has grown more quickly than the incarceration of other women, at 838 percent.

Why do women collide with the criminal justice system? Twenty-eight percent are there because of drug-related offenses, often associative offenses (they were in the car with the drugs, but they weren’t theirs); an equal number are in jail for property crimes – stealing, shoplifting, kiting checks, all crimes that are crimes of poverty. If these women were rehabilitated and given good jobs instead of incarcerated, we might save both money and lives.

Between 66 and 80 percent of the women who are incarcerated are mothers. Most of them provided primary care to their children before they were locked up. Many of the children whose mothers are incarcerated are in foster care, although some remain with relatives. Some are allowed to visit their mothers in jail, but what kind of maternal bonding experience is that? The children of the incarcerated are likely to be incarcerated themselves a generation later. In some ways they serve time for their mama’s crimes. Why, in some of these cases, is rehabilitation not an option?

White women are the majority of those incarcerated, at 45 percent. African American women, just 13 percent of the population, are 33 percent of those incarcerated. Latina women are 16 percent of those incarcerated. This is not a “Black thing” though Black women are so disproportionately incarcerated that it is striking. Why? Perhaps because the criminal justice system is a system that is mostly White male, and there is little sympathy for women of African descent.

The well-documented reality of prosecutorial discretion cuts a break for some women, but not for Black women. Police officers, prosecutors, parole officers, and judges are disproportionately White male. They bring all their biases about Black women to the table when they arrest, charge, and sentence Black women. Why else would an Ohio court (thank you Boyce Watkins for lifting this case up) sentence Kelley Williams Bolar to days in jail because she sent her children to the “wrong” school, using her dad’s address to allow them access to a better education? Had Williams Bolar been a White woman, she would be a poster child for the school choice movement. Instead, this sister will not be able to pursue her dream to teach (as she completes her education), if she is convicted of the crime she is accused of. How dare Connecticut prosecutors go after Tonya McDowell for grand larceny because she used a friend’s address to send her child to school? Homeless, what was she supposed to do? Keep her child out of school and support ignorance? Again, a White woman might be described as enterprising for taking these steps. A Black woman is incarcerated.

What about the children? What happens when a child sees her mother fighting for her rights only to end up in prison? What kind of bitterness and anger does this engender? What does it mean for the next generation? When mothers choose to fight for their children they should be affirmed, not jailed, for their tenacity. When we choose to recklessly disregard the power of mother advocacy and motherlove, the result is a multi-generational cycle of societal indifference.

Michigan State University’s African American Studies Department produces a biennial race conference, and this year’s theme was Race and the Criminal Justice System. In preparing my closing keynote on the Economic Impact of Women in the Criminal Justice System, I had the opportunity to revisit some of my old work, and to think about the many complex ways that gender collides with a “just-us” system that is replete with bias. I am grateful to colleague Curtis Stokes for the opportunity to review this issue once again, but I am mostly chagrined that things have gotten worse, not better, for women who connect with the criminal justice system.

The United States incarcerates more people than any other country – about 753 people per 100,000 in 2008. The next highest countries are Poland, at 224 per 100,000, and Mexico at 209 per 100,000. Ten percent of those we incarcerate are women, and too many of them have children. Can we do better? If we prioritized rehabilitation over incarceration we could. And if we can’t, we will have hell to pay next generation.

Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women and author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History (www.lastwordprod.com).

Japan and Infrastructure

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(NNPA) I am among the many who are stilled, freighted, and challenged by the tsunami and nuclear power breakdown in Japan.

The tragedy raises all kinds of questions including a very selfish one – what would we do if a tsunami hit the United States? As we see people missing, and watch the tragedy, I wonder how we would cope if anything like that happened here. What would happen if New Orleans happened in Washington, New York, or San Francisco? How prepared are we for tragedy?

President Barack Obama has talked about infrastructure development and the many ways that we might improve our highways, byways, and roads. This is a first step. It seems to me that 2001, 2005, and Japan are reminders that all of us need to be concerned about the quality of our infrastructure and our emergency responses to unexpected acts of nature.

What might we do if 10-foot gales of water hit one of our major cities? Is this something that we have even thought about?

At a time when we must be prepared to do much more, it appears that we are prepared to do much less. In other words, we are in the middle of an economic meltdown, and people are talking about spending less money. Doesn’t Japan suggest we should spend more to shore up our infrastructure?

The fact is that we in the United States have chosen not to invest in infrastructure for more than a generation. We drive over potholes, look at detours in roads, and send children to school in dilapidated buildings, and we think it’s okay. We know that we could invest more, and we could achieve more, but we have decided that we don’t want, to quite move in that direction. We have to, we say, pay attention to money. But, we also have to pay attention to our future and to outcomes.

Among the outcomes we must be careful of are outcomes in education. It is challenging to find that so very many people think we should cut educational spending because we are in a budget crunch. Cutting education is like a farmer eating her seed corn, deciding to sacrifice consumption today for investment tomorrow. If we are to excel as a nation, we need to invest fully in education.

We’ve not done so. Why do we have crumbling schools and state of the art prisons?

The United States leads the world in having educated people who are 55-64. Nearly 40 percent of us have AA or BA degrees. We have not improved our ability to deliver educational services in 30 years, so that nearly 40 percent of those 25 to 34 have AA and BA degrees. We lead in the education of seasoned people, but we rank 10th in the education of younger people. That speaks poorly to our possibilities for the future.

What must we do? We must spend the dollars that we need to strengthen our infrastructure. We must put dollars into education. This is hardly the time to cut back on an investment on the future.

Instead of holding back, we must move forward, boldly, with our investment.

Japan should be a wake-up call for all of us. A country that was seen as stable has been destabilized by a natural disaster.

Could that happen here? Further, what else could happen here to hurt us? We are so complacent about education that we run the risk of being run over by dozens of other world powers. Yes, there are dozens of others now, and even that might be disconcerting for those of us who are wedded to a paradigm that places the United States first.

If we take the call to wake up then we will look at infrastructure and opportunity.

Can we learn from Japan, or will we simply offer the compassion that we offer to so many others? Learning means doing something different. Is that within the realm of our possibility?

Julianne Malveaux is president of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro North Carolina and author of Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History.

Gender Equity is Everybody's Business

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(NNPA) March is Women’s History Month, and the White House Council on Women and Girls, led by Valerie Jarrett, commemorated it by releasing a report on the status of women. According to the report, we’ve come a long way sisters, but we’ve still got a long way to go. Despite the fact that we out-enroll men in college, we under-earn them in the workplace. There are so many phenomenal women accomplishing amazing things, and at the same time there are so many women whose economic attainment is constrained by gender.

We in the African American community must be concerned with the social construction of gender and the ways that patriarchy shapes the futures of our young people, both young women and young men. The face of African American leadership, mostly all male, sends a signal to young women. It suggests that women’s voices don’t matter, that we have to scrap our way to the table. It denigrates the enormity of African American women’s accomplishments.

From this perspective, I am grateful that Roslyn Brock is the Chairman of the Board of the NAACP. The sister exhibited her leadership chops when she gave her Chairman’s award at the NAACP Image Awards to Surgeon General Dr. Regina Benjamin and lifted up a stalwart medical leader who has, against all odds, given of herself. That’s women’s history!

Dr. Regina Benjamin stands on the shoulders of other outstanding African American surgeon generals, including Dr. David Satcher, Dr. Jocelyn Elders, and others. She has the opportunity to deal with the crushing effects of health disparities, and she has the experience to illuminate the many inequalities that shape our health care system. Both race and gender shape the way that health care services are delivered, and we look forward to the ways that Dr. Benjamin will share that with the nation.

Anna Julia Cooper said, “When and where I enter, the interests of my race and my gender come with me.” She was asserting the many ways that African American women make a transformative difference in the development of educational, social, and public policy. When and where I enter, I represent, our sister said nearly a century ago. Today, the same is true. Yet, for many this women’s history month is not about us, not about women of African descent. But, it can be our month, if we assert it.

We must claim this month, not simply as a statement of history, but also as an opportunity to remind the nation and the world that gender equity is a human imperative. In other words, we don’t just want pay equity for women, but we want pay equity for families and for a nation. When women aren’t well paid, families aren’t well cared for. When women are kicked to the curb economically, children suffer and we experience generational reverberations. Fair treatment of women is an investment in the growth, development, and success of our nation.

While women’s leadership is not as rare as it was a generation ago, it is still fairly scarce. Women represent less than one percent of the Fortune 500 leaders, are nearly absent in the civil rights leadership, and are fewer than 20 percent of our elected national leaders in the House of Representatives and the Senate. Indeed, with elected leadership, our numbers are dropping. We must celebrate this scarce leadership, and more importantly commit to find new leaders, young women who have been nurtured and encouraged to step up and step out into leadership.

In these harsh economic times, it makes sense to pay attention to the macroeconomic beat down that the African American community has experienced, which often fully manifests itself with the marginalization of African American men in the labor market. Concomitantly, the status of African American women cannot be ignored. We lead too many African American familes, are responsible for too many of our children, and are paid too inequitably to be able to manage. Gender equity is not a women’s imperative, it is a community imperative. During this Women’s History Month, and moving forward, our community must commit to our women as a way of committing to our future.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women and author of Suriving and Thriving: 365 Days in Black Economic History, available at www.lastwordprod.com.

Should We Bank on the Recovery?

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(NNPA) Good news – the unemployment rate is dropping, last month from 9 percent to 8.9 percent a scant drop. Better news – the private sector is finally generating jobs, 192,000 to be exact, last month. Best news – there is optimism about economic recovery and spin doctors are saying that we are finally moving forward.

Bad news – part of the unemployment rate drop has to do with people who have dropped out of the labor market. They can’t afford to look for work anymore, so they are just looking for light. If those who dropped out stayed in, we’d be looking at much higher unemployment rates. Worst news – several states are trying to cut public sector employees using the fiction that these folks are too well paid and have too many benefits for the states to afford them. We have runaway legislatures in Wisconsin and Indiana, where Democrats refuse to be badgered by those Republicans who have sent reason running and are determined to pulverize unions. Even worst news, is the intransigence of Washington Tea Party Republicans that want to cut budgets so drastically that they will minimize the future possibilities of our nation.

The unspoken news is the ways that foreclosures have completely eviscerated the economic underpinnings of middle income communities, and the African American middle class in particular. I participated in a Washington Post panel on race and the recession recently, and when moderator Michelle Singletary asked who knew someone who had experienced foreclosure, almost the entire audience stood. People don’t want to talk about what they perceive as their personal economic failures, but when a personal problem is magnified 1000 times, according to Gloria Steinem, it becomes a political or structural problem. These foreclosures are about wealth transfer, not about personal failure. It erodes middle-class confidence, makes it difficult for people to spend. And, if we don’t spend, the economy doesn’t recover.

The Obama Administration cannot afford to take scantly positive economic numbers and rest their hat on them. Targeted job creation programs are in order right now. These programs may be politically unpalatable, what with the Tea Party folks trying to cut programs that are economically restoring to those who were losers in the Great Recession. The African American community has been hard hit, but hardly heard, perhaps with respect to our first African American president. Still, you won’t get fed in your mama’s house if you don’t bring your plate to the table. Who is bringing our plate? Where is the pointed and real request for relief to the African American community? Every other community with needs has asked that their needs be addressed. What about the African American community?

I am weary and wary of numbers that say that there is economic recovery when I live in a world where recovery has not yet happened. Indeed, the 192,000 jobs generated in this last month are good, but not great results. We need to generate at least 400,000 jobs a month, according to the Economic Policy Institute, to catch up and repair the damage of the Great Recession. We should do better than 192,000 in coming months, and President Obama’s policies may even be able to get us to an 8.5 percent unemployment rate by September 2011, or even sooner. Still, we have to address the long-term unemployed, the labor market dropouts, and those African Americans who are still at the periphery of the economy. Macroeconomic policy won’t trickle down to these groups unless there is a targeted effort to include them, and Obama’s Tea Party defensive, racial stance, isn’t going to drill deep into the places where economic pain has hit hardest.

Are we banking on this economic recovery, then? I am cautiously optimistic that there is recovery in the air. And, I am absolutely horrified that there has been no targeting to the least and the left out. Two years after our nation’s economic meltdown, Wall Street is recovering, even thriving. Those who were at the periphery in 2008 find themselves even further distanced in recovery. Who is banking on recovery? Who is making money? Dare I say that banks are doing better than the rest of us?

Julianne Malveaux, economist and author, is President of Bennett College for Women. Her most recent book, Suriving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Balck Economic History, is available from www.lastwordprod.com

Is There Really A Deficit Crisis?

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(NNPA) In the wake of the State of the Union Address there is likely to be much partisan conversation about the direction of our nation. President Obama will address the economy and jobs, and Republicans will talk about the health of the economy, and about cutting budgets in their rebuttal. Citing growing deficits, both parties are concerned that spending is out of control. Yet some spending is absolutely needed to create jobs, just as $700 billion of spending was needed to bail out banks. It intrigueIs me that the same folk who eagerly bailed banks out have now suddenly discovered the concept of budget cuts and are pushing them, even as they have added to the deficit by insisting on extending Bush tax cuts.

President Obama has furthered the notion that there is a budget crisis by appointing Erskine Bowles and Alan Simpson to make suggestions to manage the federal budget deficit. The Bowles/Simpson commission would trim about $4 trillion from the federal budget in the next decade by increasing the Social Security retirement age, freezing federal pay, leveling Pentagon spending, and making other cost-cutting suggestions. There were 18 people on the National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, and 14 had to approve the suggestions for them to be accepted, but only 11 went along with some of the draconian plans that were announced, so the suggestions are only suggestions.

It is important to raise questions about the nature of the deficit crisis. Is this a cyclical crisis, connected to the economic downturn? Is it more structural, something that would have occurred without the downturn? How should it be managed, and will there be equal pain around curtailing the deficit, or will only one or two sectors pay for the challenges the deficit creates.

For example, there has been talk of raising the social security retirement age for years, and always we have looked at an across the board age increase, whether workers are high income or low, whether they have pensions or not, whether their work is physical or not. It’s entirely different to ask a professor to work until 70 than it is to ask a waitress to do so, but these plans increase the social security retirement age do not seem to take these things into consideration, thus continuing a class based economic inequality that also creates racial inequality. Is this our goal? To widen gaps instead of narrowing them? Increasing the social security retirement age indiscriminately will do this.

Similarly, the attack on federal employees is an attack that has a differential impact by race and gender. Women and people of color are both more likely to be employed by the federal government, but also more likely to get more equal pay in the public sector than in the private sector. United for a Fair Economy released their annual State of the Dream report last week. Entitled, Austerity for Whom, the report explores the ways that so-called budget cutting measures actually hit women and people of color more severely.

White women earn 82 cents for every dollar White men earn in the public sector, compared to 71 cents in the private sector. Black men earn 80 cents to the White male dollar in the public sector, but a scant 57 cents for every dollar in the private sector. Black women earn 73 cents to the White male dollar in the public sector, but 56 cents in the private sector. Latino men earn 86 cents to the White male dollar in the public sector, but just 48 cents to the dollar, while Latina women earn 71 cents to the dollar in the public sector, but just 46 to the White male dollar in the private sector.

The solution may not be to maintain a large public workforce, but any solution will include an awareness of these differences and, perhaps, a strong Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) to enforce anti-discrimination laws. Who wants to bet that the EEOC will be another of the budget cutting casualties? In an anti-regulatory climate, the combination of federal employment cuts, and an indifference to enforcement of anti-discrimination laws is designed to increase the racial unemployment gap.

It makes sense that the deficit should rise during an employment crisis. While we should be careful with our resources, we should certainly not cut budget and federally funded opportunities significantly in a recession. The so-called deficit crisis could be a more complex crisis, if we don’t put people back to work, no matter what it costs.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux is President of Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, NC. Her latest book, Surviving and Thriving: 365 Facts in Black Economic History can be ordered at www.lastwordprod.com.

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