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ACES in The Governor’s Suite

July 26, 2010

Governor Sean Parnell is quoted in the Juneau Empire on July 5, 2009 as stating:

“I know something of the ravaging effects of substance and domestic abuse from my own family history,” Parnell wrote. “My grandfather was an abusive alcoholic who verbally and physically pummeled his kids.”

He said he was grateful that his father was able to break the cycle.

“My brother and I, our lives and our families, are living proof that a life-change can happen,” he wrote.

He did not share any information about the conditions his grandfather grew up under, but it is extremely likely that he experienced multiple Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACE’s). That Governor Parnell’s father managed to break the cycle is commendable. It allowed the Governor opportunity to have a good life.

But the stories of the Governor’s grandfather have apparently given him a single minded focus on how to address the root cause of domestic violence and sexual abuse, and that is his increased focus on prosecution and punishment. And he has focused on remedies that cause additional trauma to the very children he claims to want to protect. Let’s look at the facts.

Multiple ACE’s increase a victim’s likelihood for a variety of negative outcomes, including alcoholism and alcohol abuse, depression, illicit drug use, smoking, intimate partner violence and suicide attempts, among others. These negative outcomes can be co-occuring or co-morbid as the numbers of ACE’s increase.

The Alaska Domestic Violence Prevention and Victim Protection Act of 1996, which the Governor claimed as his proudest achievement as a legislator (Juneau Empire, July 5, 2009), provides for mandatory arrest in domestic violence cases, with increased penalties. It also provides for removal of children from their family of origin. Both actions contribute, along with the domestic violence itself, to THREE (3) ACE’s. The children subjected to this are, without positive family intervention, headed to their own health and violence issues. Families with parents fully immersed in their problems caused by ACE’s perpetrate the same trauma on their children. Unless the state intervenes with behavioral health support, education and awareness, and supporting a cultural shift to family responsibility, the Governor’s actions will only contribute to more of the same (and probably escalating in some communities like the Alaska Native community.

Why do I suggest that the growth of ACE’s might occur in the Alaska Native community. Chicago Tribune columnist Leonard Pitts discusses Michelle Alexander’s book, “The New Jim Crowe” in his July 20, 2010 column titled “Legalize Marijuana–Treat Don’t Punish.” Ms. Alexander’s main point is that although the percentage of whites and blacks who claim to use drugs are about equal, blacks suffer more. Here is Mr. Pitt’s quotation from the column:

“In 2007, according to the Department of Health and Human Services, 9.5 percent of blacks (about 3.6 million people) and 8.2 percent of whites (about 16 million) older than 12 reported using some form of illicit drug in the previous month. Yet though there are more than “four times” as many white drug users as black ones, blacks represent better than half those in state prison on drug charges, according to The Sentencing Project. The same source says that though two-thirds of regular crack users are white or Latino, 82 percent of those sentenced in federal court for crack crimes are black. In some states, black men are jailed on drug charges at a rate 50 times higher than whites.”

The same is true for Alaska Natives. While only 19% of the State of Alaska’s population, Native men are almost 40% of the prison population. And Governor Parnell’s initiative targets rural Alaska, with it’s disproportionate population of Alaska Natives as his battleground. He is willing to spend tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars on Police and Troopers, Courts and Prisons when what we really need are Therapists and Substance Abuse Facilities. And with the additional Trauma caused to our children by his policies, that cost will only increase in the future as our very young Native population reaches adulthood and the adult prison system. The untreated symptoms of that populations childhood traumas will also impact the State of Alaska and it’s health care system through increased Medicare and Medicaid payments.

I challenge the Governor to do some research, reflection and thinking about the path of continued destruction he is blazing for Alaska Natives.

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