What amounts to state-sponsored kidnapping seems to be a daily occurrence in America. A New York Times report reveals the scary situation within the city, and most places in the United States. Parents are found to have any amount of marijuana in their home, perhaps an amount not even prosecutable, and their children are taken from them indefinitely.
Penelope Harris was not given more than a ticket when police found just 10 grams of marijuana in her apartment. She expected to pay a simple fine and be done with the sour experience. When the report found its way to the Administration for Children’s Services, however, aggressive action was taken.
Ms. Harris immediately had her two children involuntarily taken from her custody. Her 10 year old son spent a bewildered week in foster care, but was returned quickly. The 8 year old niece she had been caring for had it worse. She had the traumatic experience of being in foster care for over a year.
Lengthy court proceedings were encountered, while ACS performed a degrading child neglect inquiry. Ms Harris had never before been investigated by child welfare officials, in fact she had no criminal record of any kind. Ms. Harris reflected, “I felt like less of a parent, like I had failed my children. It tore me up.”
The penalties for being found as neglectful include being prohibited from jobs around children, which would preclude employment anywhere from schools to daycare centers. The findings would stay on the record until the youngest child turns 28. In Ms. Harris’ case, that’s 20 years.
Racism seems to be rampant in the program. Marijuana use by whites is twice that of their black and Hispanic counterparts. And to say white parents are underrepresented in the data would be a considerable understatement. Defense lawyers say it is nearly unheard of for ACS to perform inquires into white parents because of the drug. Seems like punishing New York minorities for marijuana use is not just NYPD policy.
In New York there were 4,891 parents investigated for drug-related cases in 2010 alone. The state does not compile statistics for specific drugs, so it is unclear exactly how many of those are marijuana related. Still, marijuana is the most widely used and prosecuted drug in America, so it is likely that a large portion of these investigations are due to the mostly innocuous plant.
About 12% of New Yorkers aged 12 and older reported using the drug at least once per year. New York has had a history of widespread use, leading the state to decriminalize marijuana in 1975. In New York, 25 grams of marijuana or less is punishable by the equivalent of an ordinary traffic ticket; up to $100.
Despite this, the New York Administration for Children’s Services still removes children from otherwise caring homes, often based on nothing more than shaky evidence at best. In fact, simply admitting you have used marijuana in the past can even warrant a neglect case. The law is so ambiguous, it simply requires “substantial impairment of judgement,” to presume neglect. Essentially leaving a loophole for ACS to investigate any home.
As these injustices occur, the evidence continues to pile up to the exact contrary of what child protection agencies have put their full faith in. A recent Canadian study found that an overwhelming majority of children found in drug-containing homes were healthy and performed well in school. They even had a lower obesity rate than the average, at 4% as opposed to the national 26%.
The study warned against treating cases as “black and white.” A leading pediatrician associated with the National Alliance of Drug Endangered Children commented, “the paper points out that we shouldn’t lump all children and drugs into one basket.” Brad Lander, a Brooklyn city councilman agrees, commenting, “I would hope that ACS, knowing what a wide-net strategy the NYPD is using, would treat marijuana arrests with a grain of salt. A neglect charge should not be leveled.”
New York, and the rest of America’s children’s programs, need to heed the professional opinion of researchers and reality. There is no use clinging to ineffective and archaic means of protecting children, at all costs, including the welfare of the children and parents themselves.
In Ms. Harris’ fairly typical case, she was initially investigated for something that isn’t even regarded as a crime in her state. Then, her family was separated from each other, with no certainty on when they might be reunited. Ms Harris had to submit to random drug screenings, and further lost her privacy by allowing caseworkers to conduct home inspections at their whim. In April, ACS finally found her parenting was “without neglect.” Sadly, the trauma Ms. Harris and her family experienced can’t be undone and those responsible are the ones negligent for playing drug war politics with innocent lives.
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