By David A. Love, November 20, 2007

America is failing its most vulnerable children.

The United States does not provide a level playing field for all children and does not protect all young lives equally, says a recent report by the Children’s Defense Fund. Poor children and children of color, in particular, "already are in the pipeline to prison before taking a single step or uttering a word," the report states. Many youth in juvenile detention facilities have never been on the track to college or a successful life. "They were not derailed from the right track; they never got on it," the organization says.

Much of the problem is due to poverty, and children of color are more likely to be afflicted. One-quarter of Latino children and one-third of black children are poor. Black children are more than three times as likely as white children to be born into poverty, and are more than four times as likely to live in extreme poverty, according to the report.

For millions of poor children, failed by their families, the child welfare system and the juvenile justice system, a life of prison awaits them. Prison is the only universally guaranteed program for children in America, the study notes, as America increasingly criminalizes its youth, and spends nearly three times as much per prisoner as it does per student. This, in a country with 2.3 million prisoners, the world's largest inmate population, and more prisoners than China, a nation that has four times as many people as the United States.

And those who are incarcerated are disproportionately of color, products of a society that has neglected and marginalized them. Children of color are more likely to be placed in programs for mental retardation, placed in foster care, more likely to be suspended, left back a grade, and drop out of school. And youth of color, 39 percent of the juvenile population, are 60 percent of incarcerated juveniles, according to the report.

A black boy born in 2001 has a one in three chance of going to prison in his lifetime. A Latino boy has a one in six chance. Today, as a result of unfair drug laws and draconian sentencing, failing schools and a lack of opportunity, 580,000 African-American men — many of them fathers — are doing time in state and federal prisons, while only 40,000 graduate from college each year, an astonishing statistic.

All of this comes down to a lack of commitment by our society, misplaced priorities and squandered resources. The Children’s Defense Fund makes a number of recommendations for dismantling the cradle-to-prison pipeline, including full funding of Head Start, making sure that children can read by the fourth grade, ensuring health insurance for all pregnant women, eradicating child poverty by 2015, eliminating hunger, and providing jobs with a living wage.

The money is available. These and other recommendations are estimated to cost around $75 billion, with $55 billion to eradicate child poverty, the Children’s Defense Fund says. Repealing the tax cuts for the top 1 percent richest people would provide $57 billion. And to put things in perspective, the war in Iraq has cost over $450 billion through 2007, about $100 billion a year.

The price — $500 billion — that America must pay in lost productivity due to its 13 million impoverished children should give all of us sticker shock. America cannot afford the cost of allowing these children to suffer.

A nation is best judged by the manner in which it treats its children. America’s treatment of children is shameful. Now is the time to clean up our act and give all kids an equal chance in life.

David A. Love is a lawyer and writer based in Philadelphia. His blog is He can be reached at

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By Wendell Berry

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more 
of everything ready made. Be afraid 
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery 
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card 
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something 
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know. 
So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord. 
Love the world. Work for nothing. 
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it. 
Denounce the government and embrace 
the flag. Hope to live in that free 
republic for which it stands. 
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man 
has not encountered he has not destroyed.
Ask the questions that have no answers. 
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.

Say that the leaves are harvested 
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus 
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.
Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come. 
Expect the end of the world. Laugh. 
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts. 
So long as women do not go cheap 
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy 
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep 
of a woman near to giving birth? 
Go with your love to the fields.
Lie easy in the shade. Rest your head 
in her lap. Swear allegiance 
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos 
can predict the motions of your mind, 
lose it. Leave it as a sign 
to mark the false trail, the way 
you didn’t go. Be like the fox 
who makes more tracks than necessary, 
some in the wrong direction.
Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry is a poet, farmer, and environmentalist in Kentucky. This poem, first published in 1973, is reprinted by permission of the author and appears in his “New Collected Poems” (Counterpoint).

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