Shanesha Taylor’s 18-Year Probation Highlights War On The Poor

May 18, 2015  |  


Shanesha Taylor gets 18 years of supervised probation, and George Zimmerman is still a free man.

So are the cops that killed Eric Garner and Mike Brown.

And the cops that killed Tamir Rice haven’t even been charged because due process apparently takes a long time, even though Rice was denied his…

It may seem like a false comparison. However, the mass incarceration of Black people while White people seem to skirt it, should be at the center of our collective angst. We have an unequal and unjust system, which as illustrated by the Department of Justice’s report on Ferguson, likes to ensnare Black people into a corrupt cycle of arrests and probation. These arrests are often prompted by a desire for revenue rather than to ensure our collective public safety. After all, who really benefits from the continued prosecution of a single, struggling Black mother? Certainly not the children we all claim to be trying to protect here.

Probation may seem like a gift, considering the alternative was prison time and having her children taken away from her – the latter of which was looking like a strong and unnecessary possibility as previously noted here. The truth is, Arizona’s Child Protective Service Department is known for being pretty harsh.

According to a report by the Department of Health and Human Services, the number of children in foster care between 2002 and 2012 declined by almost 24 percent nationwide, from 523,616 to 399,546. Yet as this article on The Fix notes, while national stats went down, Arizona’s number of children entering foster care from 2007 to 2012 skyrocketed by as much as 48 percent. Likewise, out of the 10,141 children removed from their birth home in Arizona in 2012, 59 percent were taken because of their parent’s substance abuse problem.

According to this article from the Arizona Daily Star, the increase in CPS removals has spawned a federal lawsuit filed by New York-based advocacy group Children’s Rights, and the Arizona Center for Law in the Public Interest last month. It was filed on behalf of 10 Arizona foster children (with intentions of reaching class action status to represent the nearly 17,000 children currently in Arizona’s foster care system). The lawsuit alleges that the Arizona Department of Child Safety, as well as the Department of Health’s poor treatment of foster children, puts them at risk of great harm.

But as Chris Albin-Lackey noted in a report for the Human Rights Watch earlier last year entitled Profiting from Probation, our nation’s court system has been funding most, if not all of their operations with fines and fees paid for by probationers. And the probationer’s freedom is “contingent on paying those fees.”

“The central problem with offender-funded, pay only probation is this: the longer it takes offenders to pay off their debts, the longer they remain on probation and the more they pay in supervision fees. In other words, the poorer a person is the more they ultimately pay and the longer they have to live with the threat of possible incarceration hanging over their heads. Some low-income offenders end up paying more in fees to their probation company than they were sentenced to pay in fines to begin with. Those fees are costs an offender of greater economic means could avoid altogether.”

The terms of Taylor’s first supervised probation, which would keep her out of jail and her children in her custody, mandated that she get a job, housing and dedicated child care, all at her own cost. And in addition to court fees as well as counseling services, which too came out of her own pocket, she had to put all of the funds she had been gifted through crowdfunding into a trust for her children, which could only be accessible to them when they turned 18. None of this would be an easy feat for a woman, who prior to her arrest, was working odd jobs, living in her car and bouncing between the homes of relatives and cheap motels. It is no surprise that she would ultimately renege on the terms.

And despite erroneous reports and rumors, mostly told to the media by an Al Sharpton-esque “community organizer” who was mad that she had not donated to his political campaign in exchange for his so-called support of her case, Taylor had not spent the gifted money on her boyfriend’s rap album. But as reported by Phoenix Fox 10, which included a spreadsheet submitted into court records of Taylor’s monthly spending, the gifted money was used for rent, food, clothing and a $1000 worth of non-essential items including cable television, dining and other forms of entertainment – none of which is outside the norm of what most of us spend within a month, particularly for a family with children. And none of which should have been cause for her to be considered a bad mother or criminally negligent.

Yet, Taylor found herself widely criticized and condemned for not following the terms of her probation, which she has always argued were not fair and only agreed upon out of an act of desperation to stay out of jail and to keep her children. As reported by US News Today, her new attorney said that Taylor’s background as a veteran would make it “hard to admit that things aren’t working out.” This may be true. Sometimes we get ourselves so deep in holes that it’s hard to see a way out, so we just keep on digging.

However, it is also true that an 18-year probation, which includes more rounds of classes, counseling, court fees and other stringent supervisions, likely to be paid out of pocket, will not help get her out of the hole either. If anything, it is a trap, which will almost guarantee failure, like it has for so many that have the misfortune of being Black, brown and poor.

And while it was our public advocacy, which kept Taylor out of prison, I also believe that it was also our advocacy, which put more scrutiny on her, particularly among folks determined to make her an example. Many of the same people who believe that Taylor deserves this punishment are likely the same folks who are applauding the Wisconsin GOP’s decision to require drug testing for welfare recipients and banning shellfish as a food option for SNAP recipients.

At some point we have to recognize that the war on the poor is real. And it is a fight that is not exclusive to the male portion of our communities. If we can march in the streets for Mike Brown, a kid accused of stealing cigars and roughing up a grocery store clerk and see the injustice around Freddie Gray, who himself had a long extensive rap sheet, we should be fully able to understand how Taylor is also being railroaded, and dare I say victimized, by the same unjust and racist system.

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