Politics, Sex, Religion, and all those impolite Human Conversations...

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Location: Oaksterdam, California

Friday, May 21, 2004

Tough On Crime...Tough on Kids

If you're not Respectful of Otters you shoud be. Read some of the latest:
Controlled studies show that it results in 54% fewer juvenile arrests and 69% fewer juvenile convictions and probation violations. And for every dollar it costs, four dollars are saved in future costs. Why aren't tough-on-crime conservatives all over it?

Probably because it doesn't involve more cops or more juvenile detention centers or harsher punishments or religious indoctrination. Instead, it's all about nurses.

The program started in my hometown - my mother is now the program coordinator; yay Mom! - and has since spread to 22 other states. It's a simple concept: "high-risk" prospective parents get visited at home by a nurse, beginning as early in pregnancy as possible and continuing until the baby is two years old. The nurses provide prenatal care, support, advice, and parenting education. It's a voluntary program, but more than 90% of parents approached recognize a good deal when they see one.

In a 13-year follow-up of the program, researchers found that it reduced child abuse and neglect by 79 percent. Treated mothers (most of them teenagers) had 33% fewer additional pregnancies. The kids, at age 15, were not only less likely to commit crimes (as cited in the first paragraph), but had 58% fewer sexual partners. As someone who has read a lot of intervention studies, let me assure you that these numbers are phenomenal. They're almost unheard-of. This is a program that works, and it has snowball effects long after the active intervention is over.

It also languishes in obscurity, with barely enough funding to keep the doors open. The registered nurses (who, keep in mind, have a 79% effectiveness rate at preventing the extremely expensive social problem of child abuse) get paid salaries more appropriate for nurse's aides. They cast apprehensive eyes towards Albany every time the Republican governor is looking for new ways to trim the budget. Strangely enough, budget-trimming time never seems to affect the prison guards at the Supermax prison down the road.

No matter how much "compassionate conservative" rhetoric comes out of the White House, we remain a country much more comfortable with punishment than prevention. We're also more comfortable with quick fixes than with long-term social changes, and more comfortable with the rhetoric of personal responsibility than we are with creating a genuine social safety net.

How else to explain the chronic neglect of a program that effectively fights some of our most pernicious and recalcitrant social problems? We do, genuinely, deplore child abuse and adolescent promiscuity and juvenile crime - and yet there is somehow never enough money and resources for programs to prevent them, even when those programs have been proven to pay for themselves.

You hear a lot about the sins of the father but rarely hear about the blessings of a mother...