The NY Times
The police found about 10 grams of marijuana, or about a third of an ounce, when they searched Penelope Harris’s apartment in the Bronx last year. The amount was below the legal threshold for even a misdemeanor, and prosecutors declined to charge her. But Ms. Harris, a mother whose son and niece were home when she was briefly in custody, could hardly rest easy.
The police had reported her arrest to the state’s child welfare hot line, and city caseworkers quickly arrived and took the children away.
Her son, then 10, spent more than a week in foster care. Her niece, who was 8 and living with her as a foster child, was placed in another home and not returned by the foster care agency for more than a year. Ms. Harris, 31, had to weather a lengthy child neglect inquiry, though she had no criminal record and had never before been investigated by the child welfare authorities, Ms. Harris and her lawyer said.
“I felt like less of a parent, like I had failed my children,” Ms. Harris said. “It tore me up.”
Hundreds of New Yorkers who have been caught with small amounts of marijuana, or who have simply admitted to using it, have become ensnared in civil child neglect cases in recent years, though they did not face even the least of criminal charges, according to city records and defense lawyers. A small number of parents in these cases have even lost custody of their children.
New York City’s child welfare agency said that it was pursuing these cases for appropriate reasons, and that marijuana use by parents could often hint at other serious problems in the way they cared for their children.
As states and localities around the country loosen penalties for marijuana, for both recreational and medical uses, they are increasingly grappling with how to handle its presence in homes with children. California, where the medical marijuana movement has flourished, now requires that child welfare officials demonstrate actual harm to a child from marijuana use in order to bring neglect cases, and defense lawyers there say the authorities are now bringing fewer of them.
But in New York, the child welfare agency has not shied from these cases. For these parents, the child welfare system has become an alternate system of justice, with legal standards on marijuana that appear to be tougher than those of criminal courts or, to some extent, of society at large. In interviews, lawyers from the three legal services groups that the city hires to defend parents said they saw hundreds of marijuana cases each year, most involving recreational users
Who is the Colorado Criminal Justice Reform Coalition?
Our chief areas of interest include drug policy reform, women in prison, racial injustice, the impact of incarceration on children and families, the problems associated with re-entry and stopping the practice of using private prisons in our state.
If you would like to be involved please go to our website and become a member.
Saturday, August 20, 2011
The NY Times