New Muppet on 'Sesame Street' has dad behind bars
Alex is a groundbreaking character that addresses a serious yet little-discussed problem among today's children.
The beloved children's TV show has recently introduced a new blue-haired, green-nosed Muppet named Alex whose dad is in prison. Alex, who wears a hoodie, gives voice to kids who might feel that they don't otherwise have one.
It's a groundbreaking idea, and anyone worried about the effects of imprisonment on families -- and about the skyrocketing costs that taxpayers bear for maintaining prisons -- should welcome it.
As part of this effort, Sesame Street Workshop, the nonprofit that produces the show, has created the Little Children, Big Challenges: Incarceration program aimed at giving support to children with incarcerated parents and to their caregivers.
It and the new Muppet are also prime examples of how the children's show, which earns millions of dollars from merchandise sales, continues to reinvent itself for new generations. "Sesame Street" has also reached out to military families with parents deployed overseas.
According to the University of Pittsburgh's Office of Child Development, at least 1.7 million children had a parent in state or federal prison as of 2007. It notes that this number didn't include the millions who have a parent in a local jail and that precise numbers of children in this situation are hard to come by because "jails, corrections departments, schools, child welfare departments, and other systems do not systematically count them." Many of these children maintain their relationships with their incarcerated parents.
Not surprisingly, having an incarcerated parent increases the likelihood of children's having problems such as behavioral issues and substance abuse. By highlighting these problems while helping children with them, "Sesame Street" hopes to encourage lawmakers to create policies that will lead to fewer people going to prison and more people getting treatment.
The U.S. has had the world's highest incarceration rates since 2002, according to the Population Reference Bureau. As of 2010, the rate was 500 prisoners per 100,000 citizens, compared with an average of 100 prisoners per 100,000 citizens in peer countries. Incarceration rates are significantly higher for American blacks and Latinos than for whites.
And the costs are huge. A 2012 survey of 40 states found that prisons were a $39 billion expense in fiscal 2010. Appropriations for the federal Bureau of Prisons have risen from $3.7 billion in fiscal 2000 to $6.4 billion in fiscal 2011.
"Sesame Street's" efforts to assist the children of the incarcerated is laudable but sadly overdue. The show takes risks that for-profit media companies wouldn't dare. Can you imagine SpongeBob or Dora tackling this issue?
Follow Jonathan Berr on Twitter @jdberr.
BIG BIRD: Hey big guy, sometimes people do things that are so bad that they are punished by being sent to a place where they have all there privileges taken away it’s called prison. It’s no fun at all. They can’t play with video games, go to the park, or even go swimming during the summer. I’m sorry, but the only way your dad is going to survive his time in prison is either to kick somebody’s **** or be somebody’s bitch.
LITTLE KID: Be somebody’s what?! I don’t understand..
BIG BIRD: Well, remember in that other episode “Parent Time” when you told me about the time you walked into your parent’s room and saw them lying in their bed kissing with no cloths on?
LITTLE KID: Yeaa, so?
BIG BIRD: Well sport, that’s what your dad has chosen to do with another man in exchange for protection against dangerous minorities and gangs. I believe it’s called the PENAL Protection Program. (Big Bird snickers)
LITTLE KID: Momma said he killed two people, how long is he going to be in there?
BIG BIRD: Ooooh, well I’ll let the Count tell you.
THE COUNT: Well Big Bird for Double Homicide let me see. I believe that’s (Spoken in the counts voice, you know the one) 1 Consecutive life Sentence, 2. Consecutive life Sentences, 3. Consecutive life Sentences!!!
in all seriousness I think this is great what they are doing. The show rocks!
Highest rates in the world huh? So many place to start. From the free hand outs, to the for profit prison system, to locking up people smoking weed. So bad that someone saw a need for a sesame street character (I get the intent but need to understand this is not a good thing to have happen and shouldn't be considered normal, but I hope they get it right and I'm fairly confident they will come up with a decent way to present it)?
Hey DC there is a problem here, can you bother to stop stroking each other and those lining your pockets for a change and actually do something please?
Our justice system and welfare programs are both complete disasters. Completely feeding off one another and making a small group richer than ever while other groups abuse it and find no reason to try and improve their situations on their own.
I think its time
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