Long prison terms for APS defendants would be injustice

100114 aps trialI didn’t sit through month after month of testimony in the trial of 12 Atlanta public school teachers and administrators, 11 of whom who have been found guilty. I can’t comment knowledgeably on the relative culpability of, say, Donald Bullock vs. Theresia Copeland, both of whom were found guilty and are scheduled to be sentenced on Monday for up to 20 years in prison.

But speaking generally, prison terms for those convicted in the cheating scandal ought to be measured in months, not in years, and perhaps in the case of low-level teachers, to time served and probation.

Why? In part because the 21 teachers and administrators who previously admitted guilt have already been sentenced to a combination of probation, fines and community service, with none given jail time. That list includes administrators such as Millicent Few and Christopher Waller, who by their own admission played a more central and aggressive role in the conspiracy than did most of those who chose to go to trial.

In part because Superintendent Beverly Hall, whom jurors accurately describe as the orchestrator of the conspiracy, never had to answer to the legal system for her actions. She was excused from trial after being diagnosed with breast cancer, and died before the verdicts were reached. It is fair to say that most of those convicted in court in this case would never have found themselves standing before a judge absent Hall’s coercive form of “leadership.”

And in part, it’s simple justice.  After the jury rendered its verdict earlier this month, Superior Court Judge Jerry Baxter immediately ordered the 11 guilty defendants handcuffed and taken to jail. “They have made their bed and they’re going to have to lie in it, and it starts today,” he said.

Baxter has been criticized by some for that decision, but I think it was appropriate. At that point the defendants had become criminals, and subject to be treated as such. Hauling them away in handcuffs drove that point home, both to the defendants themselves and to the public. The symbolism was important. In addition, Baxter had warned the defendants and their lawyers repeatedly about the risks they were taking in spurning plea bargains and going to trial, and those risks were real.

As we all know, prosecutors commonly use the threat of prison time to coerce guilty pleas from defendants, thus avoiding the time and public expense of jury trials. I don’t have a problem with that practice, as long as it is kept within reason and not used to bludgeon the innocent into false admissions. In this case, the defendants’ insistence on a trial required jury members to serve a heroic six months’ service, away from their lives, jobs and families.

But if those convicted are sentenced to significant time, a very serious question arises: Are they being punished for what they did, for the crimes that they committed? Or is their punishment for demanding their right to a trial by jury, a right guaranteed them by the Constitution?

There’s a precarious balance between those two questions, and on Monday, it will be Baxter’s job to find it. Justice should be served, but it should be mitigated by mercy.

 

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446 comments
Betsy Ross1776
Betsy Ross1776

No, Jay Bookman, you are flat out wrong. Long prison sentences are the right decision to drive home the point that if you cheat the children, you will pay a high price. Anything less will open the flood gate for cheaters liars and thieves to get away with crimes against the most vulnerable and precious victims.

JohnathanMarshall
JohnathanMarshall

@Betsy Ross1776 If you care for the children that much that you would send educators to jail for 20 years, why don't you go volunteer at some inner city schools.  I guarantee that will never happen.  Get off your high horse.  You've never lifted a finger to help an inner city child.

Juanx
Juanx

" But if those convicted are sentenced to significant time, a very serious question arises: Are they being punished for what they did, for the crimes that they committed? Or is their punishment for demanding their right to a trial by jury, a right guaranteed them by the Constitution?"


Does the punishment fit the crime? What a waste of human brains. They have been punished to the fullest extent by obeying their leaders orders. Give them community service, and allow them to pursue other vocations.

hssped
hssped

Right....they were just following orders.  They didn't mean to be bad.  Like the guards at the death camps.  

BCB
BCB

Give them all 20 years!

Claver
Claver

@BCB Fine with me as long as you'll pay my share of that $30K per year per inmate. 

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

Confederate soldiers did not  generally serve prison terms unless they were captured prior

to the surrender and they went to war against the USA.

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

The SONS OF CONFEDERATE VETERANS attend public schools, usually.

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

Public Schools were designed to produce adequate citizens not nurture budding

geniuses.

kitty72
kitty72

@barkingfrog 


If there budding geniuses in the classroom why shouldn't schools nurture them? That is to the benefit of society.

barkingfrog
barkingfrog

Long prison terms aren't good for anyone unless the prisoner is a danger to the public.

(If the prisoner will hurt somebody lock them up, otherwise use community corrections.)

Prison as punishment is useless.

(Prison doesn't change people.)

Maybe that clarifies my comment.


fedup52
fedup52

@DownInAlbany Knowing some of the extremist who visit this site I do believe you are right.

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@DownInAlbany


You might want to capitalize the word "some" next time. Otherwise people will read what they want to read into it. Happens a lot on here. 

Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@SFM_Scootter


They should serve some time. But I'm not for lengthy prison sentences for them. Just a waste of money meting out long term sentences for non violent crimes. If anything the jail time they should serve will hopefully serve as a reminder to teachers elsewhere the penalties for doing this. The bad thing is they coulda skated with just probation and financial penalties had they just admitted their role and saved the taxpayers some dough. They chose to do otherwise. Unfortunate. Stupid too- leading to the idea that these weren't very bright teachers to begin with too make such a dumb choice. 

Hedley_Lammar
Hedley_Lammar

@DownInAlbany @Doom Classical liberal Let's be honest here.  IF this mug shot was of 10 whites, that had cheated black students the way these 10 did, some on here would be calling for life imprisonment.


Let's be honest here.  IF this mug shot was of 10 whites, that had cheated black students the way these 10 did, the fever for seeing them harshly punished wouldn't be nearly the level it is now


FIFY.

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@DownInAlbany Let's be honest here.  This is exactly what I was objecting to earlier today; you and others trying to speak for those with whom you disagree.


barkingfrog
barkingfrog

Long prison terms aren't really good for anyone unless the prisoner is a danger to the

public. Prison as punishment is useless.

Doggone_GA
Doggone_GA

@SFM_Scootter @Doggone_GA @barkingfrog In my opinion you can't punish wrongdoers.  The most you can do is keep them away from the public for a length of time that fits the severity of their crime.  

A compassionate society would also try to reform them, but even that is not 100% sure.

On edit: I meant SERIOUS wrongdoers can't really be punished.  People like those in the APS scandal will be punished just by losing their reputations and livelihoods.  REALLY serious criminals are beyond that kind of punisment.

Tuna Meowt
Tuna Meowt

@Doggone_GA @Doom Classical liberal @barkingfrog From what I've read, the deterrent effect isn't universal, and it's not linear.  Some convicts wouldn't respond differently if you gave them five months or five years.  Others respond readily and quickly.


Perhaps it's reasonable to say that deterrence is an *aim* of the criminal justice and prison systems, but it's an aim that's sometimes either unrealized or incompletely realized.


Doom Classical liberal
Doom Classical liberal

@Doggone_GA


"And it doesn't work, for the most part.  If it did, there would be no more crimes."


Complete nonsense and not based on any empirical data either. 


Deterrence does not work in the case of capital punishment for what should be obvious reasons- the very limited use of the death penalty, the length of the appeals process before the penalty is finally meted out, etc. Matter of fact, a drug dealer on the Southside of Chicago has a substantially higher chance of being murdered in a given year then someone on death row has of being executed that year. And that is an empirical fact. 


But if you don't think prison works as a deterrence for crimes like armed robbery, rape, fraud, etc. then just try removing jail time for any of those offenses and see what happens with armed robberies if the culprits know that they'll never go to prison. It would be beyond stupid to think that the robbery rate, as well as the crime rate in general,  would not rise substantially.