DorothyRobertsOkay! I, too, am very grateful, and honored, and humbled to be here. It's a much bigger audience than I expected. And like Khiara, I feel as if I'm among people who are experts in this field, advocates, and very knowledgeable and very committed, and so I'm just grateful to be with you and share some of my current thoughts on this topic of the punitive child welfare system.

I guess I'd like to just add to the example that Khiara gave. I think it's absolutely true that structural explanations for inequality apply to white people in America, and not only behavioral, but even biological explanations have been applied to Black people and other people of color. Another area where we can see this is the rising death rate among whites in the United States, largely from drug overdose and, suicide by guns, and the explanations for those have not been at all that these people are biologically predisposed to drug addiction and violence, those are explanations that continue to explain in the media and even in scientific literature drug use by Black people, and in particular, biological explanations about Black mothers who supposedly reproduce children who are destined to be social deviants and criminals and welfare cheats, that sort of thing. So there is this very stark difference, and I agree, across the political spectrum, because we hear very conservative politicians pointing out relatives that they have who have drug problems and explaining it as social conditions that are creating it, at the same time that the idea that Black people are predisposed to violence, criminality, and drug abuse continues to circulate, and in fact, not to, not to plug another book of mine, thank you to Khiara, my latest book, Fatal Invention, is about the biological concept of race. And some people say, well how is that connected to your work on this child welfare system and reproductive justice? Because these underlying *136 ideas of biological predisposition of, especially, Black people, to take poor care of their children, and to rely on welfare, and to become criminals, underlie this, everything that we're talking about now. And support a view that a punitive system of child welfare is good, it's good for Black children, because they are being raised by people who are innately incapable of taking care of them.

So, when I began to work on this issue, I immediately noticed that most of the children, you know, in New York City in foster care, were Black. Most of the children in Chicago, in foster care were Black. And I was shocked that that wasn't a huge racial justice issue, I didn't, you have to know, you couldn't possibly work in this field without seeing it, and yet, it was just taken for granted that that was how the system was supposed to work. And if anything, even after all these years of many of us advocating against racial injustice in the child welfare system, the term that's used is racial disproportionality, which suggests that it's just the disparate impact of child welfare on Black children, because Black children need those services more and therefore there's no need to change it, if anything, maybe we have to expand the services but why is it that the service is a punitive violent service of coercively taking children away from their families, policing families, policing entire neighborhoods, if you look at where child welfare agency involvement is concentrated in big cities, it's concentrated primarily in Black, impoverished neighborhoods, segregated neighborhoods, and everybody in the community is affected by it, everybody, whether they're foster parents, whether they're family members taking care of children, whether they've been removed from foster, from their homes and put in foster care, whether they've, their kids have been taken from them, they, someone in their family, someone on the block, someone in their school--little kids know what the van looks like that comes to take you away. Everybody knows.

So, we're talking about not an individual responsibility issue; what Khiara was talking about is the ideology, but it's a false ideology that's clearly false when you look at how the system operates. It is a system of state control of entire communities that operates in an extremely violent way that contradicts every principle, supposedly, that we have in America, of family freedoms and, you know, constitutional rights, in ways that people are shocked when they find out that, you know, someone can come in your home and take your kids away without a court, without a warrant, without a court order, it's not even reviewed immediately and once your child is in foster care, as you all know, it's very unlikely they're going to come out any time soon. And so this, when you think about it politically, it switches from this question of individual parental responsibility to a question, a political question of power and of massive state control of entire groups of people. Why, in order to disrupt their families, in order to keep them occupied with, instead of organizing for change, even though it has not stopped many, many parents from organizing for change, but it's difficult, and in order to promote the idea that these communities are disadvantaged, not because of structural forces, but because of the bad behavior of parents in the communities.

And so, what I've been thinking more and more about, and I'm sure many of *137 you have, as well, is when you start thinking about the foster care system that way, it sounds a lot like prison, right? Yes! It sounds a lot like the prison system! It operates, you start to see, this is not a service, this is not a helping organization, set of agencies--this is a punitive policing agency that functions to police, control, and punish communities much like the prison system. Then you start to notice, well, goodness that's how the public assistance system works as well. We all saw that in the case of the young woman who was waiting to find out why her daycare, right here in New York, why her daycare benefits had been stopped, there's no place to sit, she's sitting on the floor, they come over and tell her she has to move, and we see the video of them yanking her child away as she's screaming and told, we're going to take your kids away from you if you don't comply and we see--right, they ended it, you know, she spent some time in Riker's--we see how in public benefits offices, there's a similar type of violent, punitive approach and in fact, public assistance is basically a behavior modification system now, there's no right to it, the whole point, which Congress said when it passed the Welfare Restructuring Law, a year before it passed, the Adoption and Safe Families Act, you know, there's a connection there. That it's designed to try to push mothers who rely on it, especially Black mothers who rely on it, into certain behaviors--marriage, not having any more kids, deter them from having children, and low-wage work--again, with the philosophy that the reason why they are in their disadvantaged position, and come to rely on welfare, is because they are not complying with family norms of marriage and not having kids if you can't afford to have them.

We see the connection to the deportation system, which now, all of America has seen and some, for the first time, realize, that the state takes children away from their parents. You know, that got all this attention, and many of us had to say, guess what, that goes on every day in communities of color in the United States, and in poor white communities as well. We see the connection to the education system. The school-to-prison pipeline. You see the connection in the healthcare system, the way in which people have been brutalized when they seek healthcare, and that prisons are one of the main providers of mental health care in the country. We see it in evictions, you know, I could go on and on. My point is that we can see this punitive approach to inequality and family need in every single institution in the United States. And, borrowing from prison and the carceral nature of prison, many of us are seeing that there is a carceral approach to people's needs that helps to explain inequality as a form of, in, defectiveness of people who are surviving the inequality and instead of providing the public provision for people who have been harmed by structural inequality, the state has an extremely punitive and violent approach to these groups.

So, one way of looking at it is the way in which neoliberalism, the shrinking of the welfare state in the United States with the abolition of entitlement to welfare being an example of it, we can see it in lots and lots of programs that have been slashed in the support for capital accumulation, that, it's like, really exaggerated under Trump where every single, every single policy is about making rich people *138 richer and punishing people who are trying to struggle in this era of shrinking public support, and the, so, the flip side of privatization is increased punishments, or policing, surveillance, and punishment, and now we can see how the foster care system is part of this expanding carceral approach to family's needs, and when we see that, we can see why the idea that the only solution is abolition for prisons, that is the approach that we should take to foster care as well. There's no reforming a system that was designed to punish people, and that has expanded like the prison system, and like the welfare system, expanded in its punitive approach as more and more Black people became involved in it. It's absolutely connected to racism. You can't explain mass incarceration, the explosion of foster care, and the abolition of welfare without seeing how racism fueled all of these--all of these--and how they have led to these disproportionate numbers of Black people in these systems. They don't just happen that way, it was designed that way.

Now I just want to close with a topic that I've been paying greater and greater attention to that is related to this expanding carceral regime, which includes the child welfare system, and that is predictive analytics. Big data, automated decision making, and predictive analytics. Again, it's not just a coincidence that, you know, just a result of advances in science, that state agencies are using these tools to help them police and punish people. It's because these tools are useful to punish people. And I'll just point to three features. Big data, so that the way in which government agencies are making decisions are based on huge data sets and algorithms, mathematical algorithms, that interpret the data to make, number two, predictions about peoples' risk of committing crimes or maltreating their children. And, or cheating welfare, and, you know, whatever, not doing well in school, you know, whatever institution we want to pick that's part of this carceral net, predictive analytics helps. Again, related to what you were saying Khiara, it's not about individual responsibility anymore, it's about the prediction that you may do something in the future and that prediction is based on an automated decision that comes--I should say, the automated decision is the prediction which leads to an automated decision. Now this is supposed to be more efficient, fairer, now take away all the bias that we see in the foster care system, in judges, sentencing by judges, parole officers' decisions, and it, you know, it logically seems to make sense, well if you've got a computer doing it, it's better than a human being who's biased doing it, but the problem is, that all the bias of human beings in the past is, is put into the data and algorithms, and the algorithms are learned, they continue to change based on the algorithm itself, and the data that it's interpreting, and so you end up with structural inequalities and human biases built into these predictions.

I'll just give a quick example. There's a great recent book by Virginia Eubanks, Automating Inequality, where she looks at this in public assistance programs, and one of the programs she looks at, the only people included in the system were people who relied on government benefits, public assistance benefits. So, it excluded all the elite people in the community to begin with and included people already. So that's one form of bias. But the factors that determine whether someone is going to commit a crime in the future, or is going to do poorly in *139 school, or is going to maltreat their children, are factors that are biased in the first place. So, for example, that you've got a relative who was incarcerated. Well we know that incarceration is biased by racial profiling and, you know, sentencing decisions, and concentrating in particular communities to even detect crime, and so, all of that bias is built into the data and the algorithms in the first place and the idea that people are risky, and those are the people that need to be monitored and punished and their kids taken from them or they're incarcerated, deprives a decision maker from actually assessing the individual culpability. So now, these systems, it's not about individual culpability, it's about the risk that's created by your social status. They're just reinforcing the inequality. And then the prediction then, and I'll end with why I think, what is at the heart of why these are so valuable to a carceral state and why we should be very concerned about it is that what the automated decision is a prediction of the future that is based on past inequality. So, there's no opportunity in it for human beings to imagine a more equal future. It deprives, it's a way of saying, we have a new system here that is going to perpetuate past inequality, and it will automatically do that.

Yes, human beings are biased, but they can also organize for social change, they can also have their minds changed, that's why we, you know, that's why we do what we do, we believe, right? You know, that human beings can change. They can change social structures, they can change what they believe about the innate defects of other people, so, but, but, an automated decision based on past inequality can't do that. And so, we should be about figuring out abolitionist tools that allow for us to envision a better world that is not based on punishing people who are struggling because of structural inequality. But is based on a vision of a world that is not structured by these unjust hierarchies and what are those tools? What even is the very way we can think about other human beings that don't rely on the kind of assumptions Khiara talked about, or the biological concepts that we're divided naturally by race? That's, I think that's the chore that we have, the beautiful task that we have in front of us that we can see when we start to understand the child welfare system in political terms, as opposed to a system that deals with individual parents' irresponsible behaviors. Thank you.