By Fatima Juwara, CFCC Student Fellow 2019-2020
Professor Barbara Babb said in class one day that Baltimore has suffered for decades with a tremendous heroin problem. That stood out to me. Why? Well, perhaps because Baltimore is only 1 hour and 30 minutes away from the nation’s capital. But why has Baltimore become so besieged by heroin? I cannot provide a definitive answer to that; however, if I had to guess, I would say “poverty.”
As of July 1, 2018, according to the Census Bureau, the population in Baltimore City, Maryland, is 602,495. Twenty-two point four percent (22.4%) of the population live in poverty. Applying the math, that means that 134,959 people in Baltimore are impoverished. This is from the Census Bureau, which is only an ESTIMATE. The actual number could be higher. I am not a math person, but fractions are easier. I would say that nearly one fourth (¼ ) of Baltimore City residents suffer from poverty.
I am going to make another inference because this is a blog post; these are only my viewpoints, not facts. People who experience poverty, aside from other factors, may not have a job or make wages that can sustain them. Additionally, people who are impoverished may have been born into poverty, as well. The poor may live in inner city neighborhoods with high crime rates and drug use. Who is affected by poverty the most? Children. What happens to the children who have the misfortune of being born into poverty, who live in areas with high crime rates and drug use? What happens to the children who grow up in the court system because they are taken away from their substance using parents due to neglect — children who are not properly provided for because their parents are spending money on drugs? These children will be traumatized.
Let us talk about trauma. The CFCC Student Fellows Program focuses on therapeutic jurisprudence (TJ). I think TJ can help break the poverty cycle and, therefore, can help reduce childhood trauma. How? TJ can help break the cycle of poverty through its application as the basis for several innovative courts. For the specific issue of heroin, this might mean a stronger drug treatment court. The goal of drug treatment courts is to break cycles. These cycles can be addiction, crime, and repeat offending. All of the cycles can lead to poverty. The use of problem solving courts helps to identify and address the root causes of an individual’s criminal behavior.
Children who are victims of poverty, who are more likely to use or sell drugs because of the environment they grow up in, do not need to go through the child welfare and juvenile justice systems. They do not need to end up as repeat offenders. We must look at these children, not as criminals, but as young individuals, whose brains are still developing. These children do not choose to live in poverty. If society can view these children as victims of trauma and can understand the effects trauma has on their developing brains, we can help these children, rather than push them deeper into the system. I ask, “Why is it so hard for people to first help the brain, before caging the body?”