Call for action after 13 babies die in “unsafe sleeping environments”

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MILWAUKEE (WITI) -- Much-needed policy or heavy-handed lawmaking? That is the debate surrounding proposals to charge mothers with a felony if their children die while co-sleeping, and if it is discovered the child's mother was intoxicated.

Milwaukee Alderman Bob Donovan says it is simple. If an infant dies because she was co-sleeping, and the parent was intoxicated, criminal charges should be filed.

"If this isn't child neglect, I sure as hell don't know what is! There doesn't appear to be the kind of outrage that I think needs to occur in this city. I will simply say this: if any one of those infants would have died in police custody, we would see the city turned upside down," Alderman Donovan said.

According to the Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office, 13 babies have died in Milwaukee County because it was placed in an unsafe sleeping environment.

Clarene Mitchell at the Black Health Coalition of Wisconsin says lawmakers behind the proposals are missing the big picture.

"There's larger issues that - yes there should be outrage - but there should be outrage at the larger societal issues that are feeding into this," Mitchell said.

Milwaukee's Commissioner of Health agrees with Mitchell.

"We need to make certain that we come to the table with resources and other solutions other than criminalizing every process that we don't fully understand," Bevan Baker said.

Alderman Donovan says the proposed law isn't only about preventing future deaths, but is also about the infants who have already been lost.

"Is holding someone accountable for murder going to end all homicides? No, but justice is done," Alderman Donovan said.

A few weeks ago, Samantha Kerkman, a state representative from Kenosha County proposed a state law that would charge parents with a felony if their kids died due to co-sleeping and the parents were either drunk or high.

The Milwaukee County Medical Examiner's Office doesn't distinguish specific instances of co-sleeping. Rather, they are included in the category of "unsafe sleeping environments."

On Wednesday, October 9th, Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett will join two of Milwaukee’s leaders in safe sleep education, the Milwaukee Fire Department and City of Milwaukee Health Department, in bringing a message about safe sleep practices directly to Milwaukee residents.

“While we have made progress in reducing Milwaukee’s infant mortality rate, we continue to see a disheartening number of infant deaths in our city,” said Mayor Barrett. “Infant deaths related to unsafe sleep are preventable, and continuing our door-to-door effort will bring the safe sleep message directly into homes in our community.”

The effort is part of Mayor Barrett’s goal to reduce the overall infant mortality rate in Milwaukee by 10 percent by 2017, while simultaneously reducing the African-American infant mortality rate by 15 percent in the same time period.

Infant deaths related to unsafe sleep environments make up approximately 15 to 20 percent of all infant deaths in the city.

4 comments

  • brad

    criminalizing everything a person does… BRILLIANT!!! next thing you know, all we will be allowed to do is go to work, go home and lock the doors.

  • liz

    this isn’t criminalizing everything a person does, it’s criminalizing parents who are negligent with their children in unsafe sleeping conditions due to alcohol or drugs resulting in the child’s death.

    i honestly hope they don’t lump all co-sleeping deaths into the same categories because sometimes it really is due to lack of education or resources to provide safe sleeping environments. however, i do think parents caring for children while they are using drugs or drinking should result in criminal charges, especially if their negligent behavior results in the death of a child.

  • WakeUp

    this situation has gotten so out of hand that the parents don’t even try to hide the fact they were drunk or high

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