Why “reinventing” CPS might not change anything

Today was the first day of Arizona's legislative session and also the day that Governor Brewer delivered her State of the State remarks. One of the highlights of her speech was her announcement that she was "abolishing" Child Protective Services via executive order. The agency will be spun off into a standalone, cabinet-level department. It will no longer be part of the Department of Economic Security (DES). I'm relieved that the Governor didn't put the agency under the aegis of law enforcement, as some conservatives have suggested, due to the chilling prospect of Arpaio's deputies demanding "papers" before investigating reports. 

But I don't see it changing much, if anything. At best, there could be some minor improvement initially due to hypervigilance but I predict things will return to exactly the way they were so long as CPS remains chronically underfunded. Defenders of Brewer's administration and Republican rule of the state will claim that cuts to CPS were inevitable due to the recession and that government agencies are bloated anyway. Isn't it funny, though, how child abuse prevention and enforcement had to be cut (along with education, health care, and social services) while prisons were spared? Obviously shrewd private prison lobbyists and their profit motive play a role in that but Corrections eats up 10% of the state's budget (which is about as much as we spend on higher education, by the way) and private prisons are only a fraction of that. The majority of state prisoners are in state-run prisons. Seems like it would be a ripe target for spending reductions and there are numerous effective alternatives to imprisonment at our disposal but they weren't considered. No, we had to hold prison spending harmless even though the actual number of prisoners in the state has decreased slightly. 

It's really easy to dismiss this as "that's Republicans for you" but this interview by Joshua Holland on Bill Moyers' site sheds some light on why certain things in government are prioritized over others. 

A growing body of academic research suggests that the wealthy see the world differently than the rest of us.

These studies are more than a matter of passing interest. Last week, the Center for Responsive Politics released a report that for the first time ever, a majority of those representing us in Congress are millionaires. And studies by political scientists Larry Bartels at Princeton and Trinity University’s Thomas Hayes have demonstrated that lawmakers vote to advance the interests of the wealthiest Americans. So in an effective plutocracy, the worldviews of ‘high-status’ individuals translate directly into public policies that affect us all.

Building on earlier research that found that those at the top tend to see themselves as being inherently more deserving than average working people, UC Berkeley psychology professor Dacher Keltner and Michael Kraus, a colleague at the University of Illinois, looked at how those views might influence the way they view our criminal justice system in astudy published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology.

The researchers found that the wealthier the subjects were, and the wealthier they perceived themselves to be in relation to others, the more likely they were to attribute their good fortune to their innate superior qualities. Keitner and Kraus also found that wealth correlates with what they called a retributive versus restorative model of criminal justice.  

What we’ve learned in this study is that if you think that there are just bad people out there, because of their genes, because of their temperament, because of their biological makeup, you won’t have much hope in restorative justice or restorative punishment. You won’t think there’s really any opportunity for them to change.

And what we’ve found is that because they have this belief that the people who aren’t doing well aren’t doing well because of their genes, upper-class individuals — or people put into this upper-class mindset — are more likely to endorse harsher, more retributive forms of punishment. That’s true when thinking about crimes and also kids cheating in schools — all manner of transgressions. I think that’s really worrisome.

Our state government is not full of elected officials or bureaucrats of considerable wealth but that does describe many of the people with the most influence over it – the lobbyists, advisers, board members, etc. 

Keltner:

And I’m not only worried about our punitive tendencies. I’d also extend this analysis to other policy areas. For example, the idea of devoting resources to those in need, people who are struggling, is a foundational element of a strong state. And our data would suggest that the well-to-do, who are more likely to be in office, won’t have that intuition about directing resources to those in need. I think there are many applications of this work.

Most CPS reports are for neglect, not abuse. While abusive parents are found at all socioeconomic levels, neglect is probably more often a function of lack of resources rather than malice. But if wealthy people are likelier to believe that poor parents are simply constitutionally inferior than to see them as worthwhile people who need help, you can see how this could put abused and neglected children from poor families in a double bind. Prisons might be taking precedence over assistance to poor households for reasons people designing those policies haven't even given much thought to. 

One response to “Why “reinventing” CPS might not change anything

  1. From there it’s only a sort-of half a skip to ‘This man is graced by great wealth,. therefore It is a clear sign that God has ordained him to be our King’.