Crack Mothers: Crime, Health, and Welfare

Drew Humphries, Rutgers University - Camden

This paper argues that the rise and fall of reports on crack mothers illustrates the politics of moral panic and drug scares. The instant addiction of crack cocaine and its threat to the health of women and infants were exaggerated by the media and used to justify harsher social agendas regarding women and minorities. The paper reviews several well-publicized prosecutions of crack mothers that sanctioned legal intrusion on women's rights and had the opposite of their intended effects, discouraging drug-addicted women from seeking prenatal care. The paper also includes an analysis of the severe media treatment of low income minority women versus the more understanding treatment of middle-class white women who were also addicts. Notwithstanding the real damage suffered by infants born of crack mothers, the paper notes that oversimplified coverage diverts attention from the underlying social problems--poverty and inadequate social services.

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Updated 05/20/2006