Putting More People in Prison Won’t Help Child Abuse Victims (video)

adverse childhood experiences

We have not had a lot of action in the Legislature this week, as Republican plot behind closed doors. We had a few proclamations and a few votes today, including the final vote on HB2889, the mandatory sentencing bill for multiple levels of child abuse. This passed the House a few weeks ago, but was amended in the Senate. It is a bit less harsh than the original bill but still mandatory sentencing related to an issue that Arizona has been ignoring for a long time.

Rep. Walt Blackman had a proclamation about Child Abuse Prevention Month and called upon members to “keep in mind the next generation and keep them safe.” I think that’s a great idea. In fact, I have been talking about building a stronger Arizona for a future generations for the last five years. It would be helpful if Blackman would join me in legislation to tackle poverty and Adverse Childhood Experiences if he wants to protect future generations and help them thrive. In his criminal justice committee, Blackman has been passing progressive legislation to tackle Arizona’s overcrowded prison population and discriminatory practices, but today he walked backwards and voted with everybody else to increase mandatory sentencing.

Arizona is WORST in the nation for Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), such as food insecurity, housing insecurity, sexual violence, physical neglect, emotional neglect, domestic violence, addiction, mental illness, or loss of a parent.

Arizona is also one of the stingiest states in the country for cash assistance to the poor, unemployment insurance and childcare subsidies. We force single mothers and their children to live in poverty with food and housing insecurity. We force far too many of Arizona’s children to live with Adverse Childhood Experiences. This “pro life” state couldn’t care less once the baby is born. “You are on your own. Pick yourself up by your little flip-flops, kid.”

What have adverse childhood experiences got to do with mandatory sentencing for child abuse? A lot. People in prison are far more likely to have had multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences in their lives than the general population. Ninety-seven percent of prisoners and 64% of the US population have had at least one ACE. Seventy-eight percent of prisoners and 16% of the general population have had four of more ACEs. Prisoners are far more likely to have experience sexual abuse, physical abuse and domestic violence than the general population.

The state of Arizona has perpetuated the child abuse problem with bad legislation. HB 2889 continues that trend. Mandatory sentencing won’t solve the problem of child abuse or sex trafficking. Prevention of Adverse Childhood Experiences, tackling poverty in a meaningful way, and guaranteeing food on the table and a roof over their heads will improve the lives of children tremendously. The Legislature has done absolutely nothing in the five years that I have been there.

It’s disingenuous at best for the majority party to promote proclamations an increase in the prison population as helping victims. We are putting former child victims in jail.

I have heard many prayers to God for guidance on the floor of the House. Ignoring the needs of our children by allowing them to live in poverty and despair ignores the teachings of Jesus. Mandatory sentencing laws that lock people up for life with no second chances, no rehabilitation, and no forgiveness also ignore the teachings of Jesus.

Mandatory sentencing will not solve our states child abuse problem. It will only fill our prisons.

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