Southside Alderman calls for Criminalization of Co-Sleeping

Written by MCJStaff   // October 12, 2013   // 0 Comments

Billboard from the city’s anti-co-sleeping campaign

Article compiled from a WITI Fox 6 News Report and a Neighborhood News Service article

Much-needed policy or heavy-handed lawmaking? That is the debate surrounding proposals to charge mothers with a felony if their children die while co-sleeping, and if it is discovered the child’s mother was intoxicated.  Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan says it is simple. If an infant dies because she was co-sleeping, and the parent was intoxicated, criminal charges should be filed.  “If this isn’t child neglect, I sure as hell don’t know what is!,” Ald. Donovan said Tuesday inwhich he called for the criminalization of co-sleeping.  “We don’t need more restorative justice. We don’t need more hand-holding. We don’t need more parenting classes. We don’t need more free cribs. The answer – what we DO need – is pure and simple: JAIL,”

Donovan said in a press statement. 

“There doesn’t appear to be the kind of outrage that I think needs to occur in this city. I will simply say this: if any one of those infants would have died in police custody, we would see the city turned upside down,” Alderman Donovan said.  A few weeks ago Samantha Kerkman, a state representative from Kenosha County, proposed a state law that would charge parents with a felony if their kids died due to co-sleeping and the parents were either drunk or high.  According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner’s Office, 13 babies have died in Milwaukee County because they were placed in an unsafe sleeping environment.  The Medical Examiner’s office doesn’t distinguish specific instances of co-sleeping. Rather, they are included in the category of “unsafe sleeping environments.”

Infant deaths related to unsafe sleep environments make up approximately 15 to 20 percent of all infant deaths in the city.
State statistics show that Black babies born in Milwaukee die at a rate that is three times higher than that of White babies. In some city neighborhoods, the infant mortality rate (death of a baby before it reaches his/her first birthday) is comparable to underdeveloped countries.
Clarene Mitchell at the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin (BHCW) says lawmakers behind the proposals are missing the big picture.
“There’s larger issues that – yes there should be outrage – but there should be outrage at the larger societal issues that are feeding into this,” Mitchell said in a Fox6 report Tuesday.  Mitchell, who is the BHCW’s director of collaboration and communication, said co-sleeping isn’t the only culprit responsible for the high number of infant deaths the last several years.

She listed a number of factors that lead to infant mortality:
• The lack of affordable and decent housing
• Extreme unemployment
• Poor educational outcomes
• The lack of coverage and access to health care
• Prevelance and impact of violence in economically depressed neighborhoods

“Where you live, work and play impacts the quality of ones overall life and health,” Mitchell said.  Milwaukee’s Commissioner of Health agrees with Mitchell.  “We need to make certain that we come to the table with resources and other solutions other than criminalizing every process that we don’t fully understand,” Bevan Baker said on the television news report.  For the last two years, Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin has been partnering with UW-Madison’s School of Medicine and Public Health, the Medical College of Wisconsin and the Wisconsin Partnership Program to implement a program encompassing Milwaukee, Racine, Kenosha and Beloit that would address infant deaths.  Called the Lifecourse Initiative for Healthy Families (LIHF), the program’s goal is to help reduce Black infant mortality in Milwaukee and the other aforementioned cities in southeastern Wisconsin.

The three key goals of the Milwaukee LIHF initiative is:
• Improving healthcare for African American families by expanding healthcare access over the “Life-course”
•Strengthening African American families and communities by increasing the fathers’ involvement
• Addressing social determinants of health by reducing poverty among African American families.

Alderman Donovan says the proposed law isn’t only about preventing future deaths, but is also about the infants who have already been lost.
“Is holding someone accountable for murder going to end all homicides? No, but justice is done,” Alderman Donovan said.
On Wednesday, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett joined two of Milwaukee’s leaders in safe sleep education, the Milwaukee Fire Department and City of Milwaukee Health Department, in bringing a message about safe sleep practices directly to Milwaukee residents.
“While we have made progress in reducing Milwaukee’s infant mortality rate, we continue to see a disheartening number of infant deaths in our city,” said Mayor Barrett. “Infant deaths related to unsafe sleep are preventable, and continuing our door-to-door effort will bring the safe sleep message directly into homes in our community.”  The effort is part of Mayor Barrett’s goal to reduce the overall infant mortality rate in Milwaukee by 10 percent by 2017, while simultaneously reducing the African-American infant mortality rate by 15 percent in the same time period.


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Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin

Kenosha County

Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan

Samantha Kerkman

unsafe sleeping environment.


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