CrimProf Blog

Editor: Kevin Cole
Univ. of San Diego School of Law

Monday, May 22, 2023

Sullivan on Protecting the Dependents of Innocent Caregivers

Michael Sullivan (St. Mary's) has published Born Innocent: Protecting the Dependents of Innocent Caregivers with Oxford University Press. Here is a summary:

Born Innocent advances a normative argument that vicarious punishment is re-emerging in a variety of state actions resulting in the separation of families and confinement of caregivers across contexts.  Children in mixed-citizenship status families often experience the loss of a parent or caregiver through detention and deportation. States deny individuals birthright citizenship based on the actions, behaviors, status, or group identity of their parents. Economically disadvantaged and minority citizens suffer the collateral consequences of mass incarceration when the state detains their parents or caregivers. The children of foreign fighters are suffering the vicarious punitive effects of denationalization and other state actions targeting their parents for their actions in a conflict zone as an anti-terrorism measure by their former country of citizenship. Vicarious punishment never went away in the case of Indigenous children separated from their families to punish their community for resisting assimilation and the extinguishment of their land claims. Their families continue to suffer from intergenerational trauma and child welfare interventions. Immigrants and asylum seekers from colonized countries and Indigenous people share in an understanding of the need for settler colonial states to reconcile with those whom they oppressed for generations.

Beneath these policy problems and legal issues lie two deeper ethical dilemmas that are the focus of this book. The first question is: What does the state and citizens owe to the individuals it detains, given their ongoing contributions in relationships to dependents? The second is: What does the state and citizens owe to innocent dependents in view of the collateral consequences of their caregivers’ detention, which has so often been influenced by prejudice against disadvantaged minority communities?

One of the book's reviewers, Elizabeth Cohen (Syracuse), writes that "Born Innocent offers readers a comprehensive treatment of family separation, vicarious punishment, and other practices that exploit and abuse the children of parents that states seek to punish. Sullivan carefully draws together evidence from philosophies of punishment, policies of the carceral and social welfare state, indigenous erasure, and immigration enforcement. What emerges is a deeply persuasive normative case against allowing states to use children as tools in their massive and expanding punitive arsenal."

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