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."