Jul 17 2014

Politics of Parenting: The Criminalization of Mothers Who are Poor and Women of Color

A few decades ago, a child playing alone at the park would have raised few eyebrows, but today it can be the cause for criminal action against parents. A woman named Debra Harrell was arrested in South Carolina this week for allowing her 9 year old daughter to play at the park on her own.

With school shutdown for summer break, Harrell had left her daughter at the park with a cell phone because she could not afford to pay for child care on her McDonald’s salary. The girl had previously been staying at the restaurant with her mother playing on a laptop until it got stolen. On her third day at the park someone called the police. Harrell, who is African American was immediately arrested for “unlawful conduct toward a child” and lost custody of her daughter. She is now out on bail and may face jail time.

A few months ago in Arizona, Shanesha Taylor, also an African American mother was arrested for leaving her two young children ages 6 months and 2 years old in her car while she went on a job interview. Taylor was charged with two counts of felony child abuse.

As the rates of poverty among single mothers increases every year even as subsidies for child care are cut, mothers are being increasingly targeted as criminals for parenting their children. The race and income levels of the parents in question seem to determine the harshness of the penalties.

GUEST: Michele Goodwin is the former the Everett Fraser Professor in Law at the University of Minnesota, and currently the chair in law and professor of Medicine at US Irvine, and Loretta Ross, former Coordinator of SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Health Collective.

One response so far

One Response to “Politics of Parenting: The Criminalization of Mothers Who are Poor and Women of Color”

  1. Kathion 23 Jul 2014 at 1:51 pm

    While I agree with you on most of these issues, the second case was not even close to being the same. The children were way to young and mostly unable to do anything if someone tried to take them out of the car. Of course, now the issue is leaving a child in a potentially hot car for any amount of time. This could be a greater concern. Ms. Harrell’s daughter concerns me in that she could of been taken and hurt, or just injured and not able to get help on her own.