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Will Privatizing Child Protection Protect Georgia’s Children? Yes and No.

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uKnnT.Em.56

As Georgia prepares to follow in Florida’s footsteps in privatizing child protection services, there has been a lot of politicking but little talk about the real issues that lead to failures to protect children “in the system.”  Privatization in Florida has been a very mixed bag, with some counties improving their performance and other counties mired in scandals involving the private non-profit agencies hired to protect children.  It’s reasonable to expect that Georgia will fare a little better, but don’t expect the failure rate to drop — or rise — significantly.

The failures lie in policies enforced by the courts, and nobody is talking about reforming those policies.

Like Florida, Georgia plans to eventually privatize the services that come after an investigation has determined a child is in danger, namely: foster care, family “reunification” interventions, and adoption.  State workers will continue to be responsible for investigating abuse, and courts will still be responsible for deciding if a child should be removed from a home, returned to a home, or adopted.

Private agencies do a great job with adoption, and some of them do a better job than the state in supervising foster care.  Much of this care is already done through public-private partnerships in Georgia.  But in all the politicized talk about private versus public, little has been said about the real  problem with our child protection services.

The problem is the mandate to keep families together or achieve “reunification” as soon as possible.

Approximately a decade ago, many states began to move towards a model of keeping families together, no matter the cost.  Florida went further than Georgia, though it wasn’t an issue tied to privatization because that part of child protection is still performed by state agencies.

And now Florida is counting the bodies.

In an extraordinary report, the Miami Herald investigated the deaths of 477 children who  had prior contacts with child protection services.  477 — since just 2008.  The Herald makes a strong case for blaming the mandate for “family preservation” for many of those deaths:

They tumbled into canals and drowned, baked in furnace-like cars, were soaked in corrosive chemicals, incinerated, beaten mercilessly, and bounced off walls and concrete pavement. One was jammed into a cooler posthumously; others were wrapped like a mummy to silence their cries, flattened by a truck, overdosed and starved. An infant boy was flung from a moving car on an interstate. A 2-year-old girl was killed by her mom’s pet python.

The children were not just casualties of bad parenting, but of a deliberate shift in Florida child welfare policy. DCF leaders made a decision, nearly 10 years ago, to reduce by as much as half the number of children taken into state care, adopting a philosophy known as family preservation. They also, simultaneously, slashed services, monitoring and protections for the increased number of children left with their violent, neglectful, mentally ill or drug-addicted parents.

Public or private, the child protection system is dealing with multigenerational problems that are far more severe than most people realize.  It’s easy to criticize government social workers, or to lash out at efforts by private agencies.  The hard part is acknowledging that “family preservation” may be the wrong goal:

Rather than go to court to force parents to get treatment or counseling, the state often relied on “safety plans” — written promises by parents to sin no more. Many of the pledges carried no meaningful oversight. Children died — more than 80 of them — after their parents signed one or, in some cases, multiple safety plans.

• Parents were given repeated chances to shape up, and failed, and failed and failed again, and still kept their children. In at least 34 cases, children died after DCF had logged 10 or more reports to the agency’s abuse and neglect hotline. Six families had been the subject of at least 20 reports.

The decision to prioritize family unification was made by bureaucrats and politicians from across the political spectrum.  Liberals defend state agencies and argue that biological parents should receive as many resources as possible to keep their children; conservatives argue for the primacy of family and against state involvement.  Failure is bipartisan:

“It’s the system that’s broken. When numbers take over instead of outcomes for people, you are doomed to failure,” said James Harn, a 30-year law enforcement officer who spent his last nine years as a commander supervising child abuse investigators at the Broward Sheriff’s Office before leaving a year ago. “They want to keep families together, but at what cost?”

Prioritizing family preservation is just one policy error.  Others involve the increasingly hands-off attitude towards the family arrangements of women living on public services and the leniency granted to serial offenders in the courts.  
Social workers have had little power since the 1960′s to insist that women on welfare live alone with their children, rather than inviting a boyfriend, or a series of men into their state-subsidized homes.  These unattached men frequently abuse the children they are living with:

The night before Aaden Batista died, his killer played a baseball game on his Xbox, smoked marijuana and gave the toddler a bath.

As Aaden’s mother, Whitney Flower, worked as a medical assistant at a nearby hospital, Jason Padgett Sr. prepared the toddler for bed, putting on his diaper before, ultimately, viciously shaking him and slamming his head on the floor. . .

Aaden became part of the yearly count of children killed at the hands of paramours — child welfare’s oddly genteel term to describe boyfriends or girlfriends of custodial parents. Protecting children from abusive paramours is one of the great challenges facing the Department of Children & Families.

“Paramours are a huge red flag,” said Richard Gelles, dean of the School of Social Policy and Practice at the University of Pennsylvania, as well as chairman of child welfare at the school. “They are enormously over-represented as the slayers of young children.”

Under-prosecution and under-incarceration, especially for domestic violence, presents another problem.  Expect this problem to grow worse as “Right on Crime” Republicans, left and right-wing libertarians, leftists, and liberals join forces to shrink our criminal  justice system and empty the prisons.  Their political kumbaya moment is going to mean more violence, more crime, and more murders.   You need only peruse the Miami child death report to find evidence of hundreds of people who have been granted serial leniency in our allegedly-harsh justice system:

In the pre-dawn hours of May 5, 2009, Jasmine Bedwell had to make a decision: Take more blows or more chokes — but try to rescue her son from the clutches of her enraged boyfriend — or go find help. She left and borrowed a cellphone to call 911.

 
 
 

 

 

Admissability of Evidence, Assignment of Blame: The Paterson, NJ Rape Case

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Man rapes, tortures five daughters, impregnates them repeatedly, forces them to deliver babies at home.

Administers beatings with steel-toe boots, wooden boards.  Withholds food, doles out extreme psychological torture.

Flees authorities.  Keeps the young women captive for decades.  For their lifetimes.  Receives probation after getting caught once.  Some of the babies die.  Daughters, wife forced to secretly bury them.

But what about the admissibility of evidence?  Isn’t that what’s really important here?

AP — A New Jersey man with apocalyptic visions is accused of years of terrorizing his family, raping his five daughters and impregnating three, beating his children with wooden boards and even moving at one point to avoid child welfare investigators.  The nightmarish picture of a family subjected to more than a decade of threats and violence and largely cut off from the outside world is emerging in a state courthouse where prosecutors are preparing to have the man stand trial five times, one per child victim. . . . In her testimony, his daughter described experiencing and witnessing beatings administered with wooden boards and steel-toed boots. She said minor transgressions often were punished by the withholding of food.   The girl’s mother testified some of the babies were delivered at home and never received birth certificates, and said in at least two instances babies who died in the home were buried without authorities being notified.  The children were home-schooled, she said, and were discouraged from interacting with other kids.  “No one really asked questions of each other because somebody would tell on somebody and somebody would get in trouble,” she said.  Even after she became aware of sexual abuse, she said she was too frightened to confront him.  “I was afraid to ever accuse him of being demented, or being a pedophile. I knew the word but I wouldn’t dare use it because it would result in a beating,” she said. “I’m sure my not standing up to him didn’t help the kids. They felt disempowered also. There was just a lot of fear. Everybody was threatened.”  Daryl Pennington, an attorney representing the defendant, did not return messages seeking comment

Now, wait for it . . .

Attorneys are scheduled back in court on Friday, when state Superior Court Judge Raymond Reddin is to rule on the admissibility of the wife’s testimony.

It’s the system, not Judge Reddin’s fault, but they will spend more time in that courtroom quibbling over rules of evidence than talking about the crimes themselves.  Such is our justice system, after fifty years of defense-driven exclusion of evidence rulings.  The truth, the whole truth, about what this man has done will unavoidably take a back seat to our sickening and criminal-biased criminal procedural rules.

So who, other than the defendant, is at fault?

Usually, the media’s default angle in a case like this is the “failure of child protection authorities” line.  But is it really the child protection workers who failed when the court lets him go?  In this case, child protection did their job by getting this animal into a courtroom and at least temporarily removing one of his children from the home.  They some judge cut him loose.

Many reporters view child protection workers as fair game — prosecutors and judges, not so much.

Refreshingly, the AP reporter here does not point fingers at the child protection workers and call it a day.  He seeks comment from the prosecutors in the previous case, where the offender was permitted to walk away from extremely serious charges.  However, the reporter doesn’t name the judge who delivered such a lenient sentence.  Maybe the prosecutors were asking for more time.  Maybe it was the judge’s fault.  Maybe both the prosecutor and the judge wanted to throw the book at this man, but they were constrained by a system that still makes it difficult to hold people responsible for crimes committed against their own children.  Here is the AP account:

As the first [rape] case nears trial, questions have been raised about whether state authorities could have put a stop to the abuse sooner. Some of the crimes are alleged to have occurred while the family was under scrutiny by the state child welfare agency, and after the father had been arrested and pleaded guilty to assault and child endangerment.

During that time, child protection authorities has already brought the man to court.  His success in essentially beating the charges (mere probation, despite fleeing, kidnapping, attempted kidnapping, abuse) cannot be laid at their feet.  Doubtlessly, beating those charges empowered the abuser.  I’m sure the child protection workers feared for his daughter’s lives after the court cut him loose.  Then, this:

Arrested in 2006, [the defendant] stands accused of raping five of his daughters, three of whom are believed to have given birth to a total of six children. He is being held on $1 million bond.  Having been ruled competent to stand trial earlier this year, he faces 27 charges including aggravated sexual assault, sexual assault, lewdness, child endangerment, aggravated criminal sexual contact and criminal sexual contact.

He is back in jail now, awaiting trial, but this man was out of jail on bail for the 2006 rape charges for a very long time.  NorthJersey.com has more troubling details about his time out, below.

If the defendant was being evaluated for mental competence, for such serious offenses — five young rape victims, three repeatedly impregnated by him — and if the question was whether he even had the ability to control this behavior (shades of the twinkie excuse of sexual assault), and if his wife and daughters had been tortured by him and were terrorized by him, and he believed their lives were his to destroy, what the hell was he doing out of prison for five minutes, let alone 3+ years, while being “evaluated for psychological competence”?

What type of system says to a serial rapist and torturer: OK, you may not be able to control your rapin’, torturin’ behavior, so we’re going to cut you loose while your lawyer drags out the process of getting you checked out by the yours-and-mine shrinks?

Our system.  I wonder how many other little girls this rapist was able to “get” while awaiting trial this time.  We know some of what he did the last time he walked away with a slap on the wrist:

Authorities say the assaults began in the mid-1980s and lasted until 2002, when the parents separated, and occurred at residences in Paterson, East Orange, Orange and Eatontown. . . According to court records and published reports, the girls’ father was arrested in 2000 and charged with kidnapping for allegedly trying to take three of his children from state custody at a Monmouth County medical center. He posted bail and later pleaded guilty to assault and child endangerment and was sentenced to a year’s probation. Prosecutors in Passaic County say one of the daughters, then in her early teens, was raped as late as January 2002.  New Jersey’s Division of Youth and Family Services declined to comment, citing confidentiality requirements.  But the man’s wife and one of his daughters testified that the agency had indeed removed at least one of the children from the family’s home, and that the family had temporarily moved, first to Jersey City and then to Florida, to avoid the agency’s investigation.

Who was the judge in the 2000 case?  What does he or she have to say about the decision to give him probation for such serious offenses?

NorthJersey.com has more information about the 2006 bail decision. The defendant has been out on bail for years and was only remanded six months ago.  Read this horrifying passage carefully:

It is a complicated series of events that led a state Superior Court judge in Paterson to remand [the defendant] to the Passaic County Jail on Sept. 24 after having been free on $500,000 bail since his 2006 arrest. [He] is awaiting trial on charges he sexually assaulted his daughters and deliberately impregnated them.  [The defendant], 50, committed the sexual assaults from 1985 through 2002 in Paterson, East Orange, Orange and Eatontown, according to prosecutors. Authorities have described him as a “blueblood,” or someone who believes in keeping his bloodlines pure, and that the assaults were a disturbing attempt to create “purebred” offspring.  A hearing is scheduled before state Superior Court Judge Raymond Reddin in Paterson on Tuesday to determine how to deal with the matrix of factors that have made and could continue to make the $280,000 home he used as collateral for his bail insufficient. [The defendant] will remain in jail as long as the matter is unresolved.  What led to the suddenly precarious status of [the defendant's] bail was that prosecutors noticed the defendant was apparently accompanied by a woman and a young child at a recent pretrial conference before Reddin last month, said Joseph Del Russo, Passaic County chief assistant prosecutor. Defendants in sexual assault cases — as a condition of bail — are often ordered not to have contact with small children. Prosecutors checked to see if such a no-contact order was part of [the defendant's] bail conditions set back in 2006. As it turns out, it was. But that became a side issue when prosecutors noticed an even bigger problem, Del Russo said.  “We began to discover that his original bail posting — that is, the original process of posting bail with the County Bail Unit — was flawed,” Del Russo said. The most glaring problem, Del Russo said, was that proof that the property [the defendant] owned was worth $285,000 and was unencumbered — meaning no liens against it — was misleading. The document providing that proof was actually a title search produced by the seller of the property, according to Del Russo.

Let me attempt to reign in my disgust here long enough to paraphrase:

This child-raping animal has been walking free for 3 1/2 years while his attorneys successfully deflected his trial on multiple rape and torture charges.  By now, the defendant is so unworried about consequences that he actually showed up in court with a woman and young child — knowing full well that by having the child with him, he was violating his bail conditions in a child-rape case — in front of law enforcement, the prosecutor, and the judge.

However, the revelation that the child-rapist had another child under his control isn’t what landed him in jail again.

No, the endangering-another-innocent-child-after-impregnating-three-of-your-daughters-six-times-and-raping-two-others isn’t the problem.  Oh, heck no.  That, according to the reporter, the courts can swallow.  Regarding that, they’re good with the guy being out on the streets indefinitely.  Another two or three years, at least.

So what’s this bigger problem than child rape?  Real estate valuation.

The quote bigger problem unquote is that the child-rapist’s house, which he put up for collateral for bail, has some title issues and needs to be reappraised.  Yes indeed, that’s far more relevant than letting a child-rapist traipse out of the courtroom with another little baby in tow:

The most glaring problem, [Passaic County assistant prosecutor Joseph] Del Russo said, was that proof that the property [the defendant] owned was worth $285,000 and was unencumbered — meaning no liens against it — was misleading. The document providing that proof was actually a title search produced by the seller of the property, according to Del Russo.”The seller produced for [the defendant] a title search that showed the house was paid for — free and clear — and unencumbered,” Del Russo said. “Instead of [the defendant] showing his interest in the property, he showed us a document from the seller, rather than from him. So we don’t know, when he brought the house, whether he had a tax lien that followed him, or if he took a second mortgage on it. It was certainly misleading, let’s put it that way.”

Pardon me for being blunt, but shouldn’t the prosecutor be raising hell about the fact that the child rapist has a little child in his custody instead of prattling on to the media about real estate minutiae?

To heck with the mental state of the defendant: unless the NorthJersey.com reporter got the story very wrong, the heads Passaic County authorities need to be examining are the ones on the northern end of their own necks.  While the rest of us examine our hearts.  Doesn’t child rape matter?  Child rape.  Impregnating your daughters, over and over again.  Forcing them to give birth in front of you, for the love of God.  Making them bury their babies in secret.

Kicking their little bodies with steel-toed shoes.  Between rapes.  The prosecutor is busy talking about real estate?

~~~

Whenever I read a story like this, I wonder at the lack of outrage.

  • Where are the campus rape activists and the N.O.W. activists, with their “take back the night” marches and “teach-ins” and glossy “no-means-no” leaflets?  Is that all just . . . self-serving theatrics?
  • Where are the legal activists and law school students and law professors who pour millions of dollars and thousands of hours into investigating perfectly legitimate convictions every year because “every single injustice is unacceptable” . . . unless, of course, it is injustice absorbed by the victims of crime?
  • Where are the across-the-disciplines academics who never met a violent offender who didn’t simply titillate them?  Do they ever doubt their loyalties, ethics, or research claims, looking at a case like this?
  • Where are the tough-on-crime politicians?  Are conservatives still playing shy on child molestation because their “pro-family” constituents don’t like the state messing with private lives?  Are the “dad’s rights” deadbeats whining about attacks on the patriarchy again?  The small government purists linking arms with the A.C.L.U. to denounce prison costs?
  • Where are the crusading journalists, especially self-styled experts like Dorothy Rabinowitz, who has been dining out on the story of two (two!) bad child rape prosecutions from two decades ago, although no pattern of wrongful prosecution was ever uncovered (because none existed)?  Rabinowitz’s large-print account of the Amirault and Michaels cases has done immeasurable damage to the ability of prosecutors to convince jurors that a child has been raped, yet Rabinowitz has never revisited her own claims that these anomalous cases represented anything other than a real good chance to present herself as some sort of breathless freedom fighter.  “Like lightning, the charge could strike anyone” she trilled.  With no supporting evidence.  Because there was none.  This shameful chapter in the usually reliable Wall Street Journal’s history, and Rabinowitz’s histrionic, projection-heavy, thin-on-facts book, No Crueler Tyrannies, could both use an honesty makeover via some attention to the unfolding Paterson case, which has far more in common with the  average child molestation case than the handful of decades-old cases Rabinowitz still rails about.

You know, in the interest of opposing cruel tyrannies.

Another Entirely Accurate Critique of the Miami Homeless Sex Offender “Crisis”:

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From PROTECT, the National Association to Protect Children:

Miami’s Julia Tuttle Causeway fiasco–where about 70 “registered” sex offenders have been herded under a bridge to live–is being challenged in court by the ACLU.

PROTECT wrote about the situation earlier this year (See “Gimmicks Gone Wild,” March, 2009 Newswire), calling it a “cynical game of sex offender dumping.” The New York Times reports today that Miami probation officers are telling released sex offenders to go join the encampment, because there are virtually no area rental apartments to be had that don’t violate local residency restriction ordinances for “registered” sex offenders.

Miami area officials, like those in many jurisdictions around the country, are passing the ordinances in a desperate gesture to keep released sex offenders away from children.

The New York Times reports that Florida Governor Charlie Crist “placed the responsibility [for monitoring released offenders] squarely on local governments.”

As long as state politicians continue to peddle sex offender “registration” schemes as a low-cost alternative to incarceration and intensive probation and parole, local authorities will continue to fall back on ineffective zoning ordinances and highway bridges as their main public safety strategy.

Classrooms and Courtrooms [Updated]

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From 11 Alive, Atlanta, which carried the story after all sorts of officials dropped the ball:

Stefan [Ferraro] is an 11-year-old boy with Autism. A judge ruled he was physically and verbally abused at school.. . . Stefan cannot speak. He has Autism, and is non-verbal.

Ferraro began to show signs of abuse after he was transferred to the Marshall School in DeKalb County, a placement through the Atlanta Public School System.  His parents complained to the school, to no effect.  Then they placed a microphone in their son’s clothes.  This is what they recorded.  Picture an adult talking to another adult in a room with profoundly disabled, non-verbal children in their care:

“The man I’m dating is intelligent. But he has a small penis. You can’t throw a pebble into the ocean. Does it matter? Does size matter? Yes it does.”

The adults talked about drinking.

“Russian vodka with olive juice. That’s a dirty martini?”

At one point in the day, Stefan ate some pizza out of the trash can. The adults joked about it.

“I mean he was chill. Finger lickin’ good. He was chillin’ with that.”

But what the Ferraris heard that horrified them was this:

“You want a be-quiet hit?” (followed by the sound of a thump) “There you go. Get it now, go on.”

And two minutes later, listen as an adult tells others to leave.

“Please make him be quiet. Go away. Go. Take a minute. Go. Go on.”

And 15 seconds later, there were 18 seconds of thumps and the sounds of Stefan making noises.

Have you ever been in a classroom where adults talked like this?  Here is the way the same adult talked in the courtroom:

[T]he most anticipated witness took the stand on the final day of the hearing: teacher Sherri Jones. And the Ferrari’s attorney, John Zimring, got right to it, asking her if she was the one talking about a man’s gentials.

“I can’t recall if I said it or not,” Jones said.

If she was the one talking about drinking.

“I may have,” she said.

If she was one of the people joking about Stefan eating out of the trash.

“I don’t recall saying that,” Jones said.

But after Sherri Jones is made again and again to listen to the audio, her answers changed.

“And that was your voice?” Zimring asked.

“Yes, it was,” Jones answered.

“So you did say that?” Zimring asked.

“It came out of my mouth, yes,” Jones replied.

“It came out of my mouth.”  Denial of culpability is the lingua franca of courtrooms, spoken fluently by defendants who believe that any judgment of their behavior is unfair.  The weird, stilted, third-person language that people slip into in court, and even outside of it, is a verbal tactic designed to avoid guilt.  Ms. Jones was actually saying: “I was in that room.  The child was in that room.  The words were in that room.  But the words were just there.  Nobody is any more responsible for them than anybody else.”

A regular Albert Camus.

A person who is foul enough to talk about her boyfriend’s genitals in the presence of handicapped children, and mock those children, and either hit them or allow another adult to hit them, cannot reasonably be expected to take responsibility for that behavior.  The real question is this: why is nobody else holding her responsible?  Her principal has not done so.  The Atlanta Public School System has not done so.  They are defending what she did.

It came out of her mouth, and they did nothing.

***

Jurors in the Silver Comet Trail killer trial took less than two hours to find Michael Ledford guilty.  Paul Kersey writes:

Michael Ledford was found guilty on all ten counts. Remember how his lawyers made a huge stink about not being paid? Well, they did not call one witness for his defense. Their actual work in the case was/is, like you said, tactics to delay and obfuscate. The news reports on Monday said Ledford’s lawyers will call several witnesses during the sentencing phase to make the case for not giving him the death penalty. Apparently they’re counting on leniency for the following reasons: Ledford fell from a tree when he was a boy and allegedly sustained brain damage; Ledford was sexually abused as a boy; and Leford is an alcoholic.

Bloody Outrage: Another Murder That Could Have Been Prevented — Updated

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CORRECTION TO THE ORIGINAL ARTICLE:  A reader informed me that the names of judges currently presiding over a court division in Florida attach to previous cases from that division — therefore, the judge listed online may not be the same judge who meted out a previous sentence in that division.  I have corrected the following story to reflect this.

Why this happens is another issue.  There ought to be real transparency in court proceedings, and it shouldn’t require a trip to the courthouse or a phone call to sometimes-unresponsive clerks to discover how a particular judge ruled on a particular case — who let a sex assailant and child abuser go free, to kill another victim, for instance.

Corrections are underlined.  If anyone can provide the names of these judges, please let me know.  I can’t access the dockets — although I pay these judges’ salaries, and so do you.

In the St. Petersburg Times this morning:

Sex offender accused of pregnant St. Petersburg teen’s death

Polk County Sheriff’s deputies have arrested a 36-year-old St. Petersburg man for the murder of a pregnant teen whose body was found Monday in Davenport.

Aurelio Martinez, (left) a registered sex offender, was arrested at about 7 a.m. on a second degree murder charge for the killing of 17-year-old Bria Metz.

I looked up Martinez’ sex offender record. In October, 1997, in Dade County (Miami), Martinez was convicted of burglary with assault and battery and sexual battery. He was also convicted of probation violation because he was on probation at the time of the attack.

Serious stuff, right? Burglary, assault and battery, sexual assault? So what did the presiding judge do? He or she sentenced him to probation. Probation for burglary, assault, a sex crime, and violating probation.

I guess the judge figured Martinez was getting good at probation. He’d been been on it for so long.

There’s a problem, though: the judge was not supposed to sentence Martinez to probation for these crimes. There’s another problem, too. Because some judge let Martinez go, probably in violation of Florida sentencing law, Martinez was free to commit felony child abuse with injury to the child in 2003.

In November, 2003, in Hollywood, Florida (Broward County), Aurelio Martinez and Amy Andrea Young were charged with child abuse, presumably of Ms. Young’s child. Police actually filed two charges against Martinez: felony child abuse and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon. Judge Carlos Rodriguez presided, the weapons charge apparently disappeared (of course), and Martinez was sentenced to three years in prison.

Here is where it gets confusing, at least from what can be seen on-line. The child abuse and assault with a deadly weapon crimes were committed on 11/2003. Martinez was sentenced in 7/2005, twenty months later. Was he in prison during that time? Or was he on probation again, until he violated that probation as well? Broward County wants me to pay for access to that part of the website — the charge is five dollars simply to find out Martinez’s sentence. That’s nuts.

[Note to Howard C. Forman, Clerk of Courts, Broward County: I already pay for that website. It's called taxes.]

My guess is that Martinez was in jail awaiting sentencing. It would be nice to think so — nice to think that the judge hadn’t given him probation again, for beating a child. In any case, he entered the state prison system in 7/2005 and got out 25 months later, which is either two years behind bars or nearly four years behind bars, depending on what happened in 2004.

In 2006, during the time he was in prison, he was also sentenced to one year and three months in the 1997 “burglary/assault-and-battery/sexual assault” charge in Dade County. Maybe he was going to get out early from the child abuse charge, and they finally decided to give him some time for “burglary/assault-and-battery/sexual assault/parole violation.” Or maybe it took them several months to figure out that he was on probation in another county for serious felony charges.

If they did decide to give him a bit of time for the sexual assault, finally, it wasn’t much, and it was served concurrently with the felony child abuse sentence.

Are you enraged yet? I’m enraged. Probation for a sex crime, even after violating probation, and then less than two years for the sex crime after his probation was revoked because he’d violated probation a third time and committed felony violence against a child, and he still didn’t even serve all of that sentence? Do we have absolutely no standards? And still, the academicians and activists and the Pew Foundation whimper:

“We’ve got too many people behind bars. We’re a fascist state.”

But, of course, it gets worse.

Let’s start at the beginning. Only, we can’t do that, because juvenile records are sealed. Oh, well. Aurelio Martinez’s first adult charge, unsurprisingly, occurred months after his 18th birthday. Funny how that happens: I wonder what he was doing before he aged out of juvenile. The 1991 charge was for loitering and resisting arrest. It was dropped. Whatever. It didn’t take long for Martinez to get into serious trouble. In 1994, he was convicted of felony burglary, felony grand theft, felony possession of burglary tools, and carrying a concealed weapon.

You know where this is going. Three felony convictions? Probation, of course. Some judge let him go. One year of probation, starting 12/15/94. What was this judge thinking? What is he thinking today, after the murder?

Another charge against Martinez was decided by the judge that day — it has a different case number and different filing date. I’m not sure if it is a totally separate offense. In any case, felony armed burglary in that case was dropped (thank you, plea bargains), felony cocaine possession and concealed weapon charges were disposed with probation, and probation violation was disposed with terminating probation. But at the end of the day, Martinez walked out of court on probation anyway.

Get it?

“But we’re a fascist state. We’re so hard on criminals.”

Imagine being the police officer who had to arrest Martinez, knowing full well he was armed, that he had used weapons, that he had a record.

Imagine being the social worker walking into his home a few years later to try to rescue a child. We send unarmed child protection workers into homes where there are armed felons. We expect unarmed child protection workers to challenge the authority of armed felons.

“But we’re a fascist state.”

Nobody asks judges to do what we ask of unarmed child protection workers and police officers. Perhaps if we asked them to confront the violent people they send back into the community in the communities they send them to, sentencing patterns would change.

What is the matter with our judges? In this case, it looks very much like at least one judge broke the law. But even if he didn’t — even if there was some loophole that permitted that judge to let Martinez walk free — why, in his judgment, did that seem like the right thing to do? How does any judge justify putting armed felons back on the streets, with no time served?

If no judge broke the law in releasing Martinez, clearly there are still problems with our repeat offender laws and minimum mandatory laws that need to be resolved by the legislature.

Because we can’t trust judges to keep us safe.

At least Martinez had to register as a sex offender in 1998, an act that placed his DNA on record and reminded him that his DNA would be in the state database, so if he committed another sexual assault, he could be identified. How many rapes have sex offender registries prevented this way?

But this raises another enforcement issue: is anybody enforcing the sex offender registry laws? In 2001, in Broward County, Martinez violated the registry rules. Adjudication was withheld — in other words, nobody did anything. And then he brutalized a child.

The record so far:

  • 1991: Aurelio Martinez turns 18 and his subsequent crimes become public record.
  • 1994: A judge lets Martinez walk on a fistful of serious, felony charges, including armed burglary.
  • 1997: Another judge lets Martinez walk on even more serious, felony charges, including sexual assault, probation violation, burglary, concealed weapons.
  • 2005: Judge Carlos Rodriguez slaps Martinez on the wrist for felony child abuse charges, drops other weapons charges, and chooses to not use his authority to enhance Martinez’s sentence in any way, despite his record, the unadjudicated sex offender registry violation, and the other times he has violated probation by committing violent crimes.
  • 2007: Freed a few years later, Martinez violates probation again and flees.
  • 2009: By his own admission, Martinez murders pregnant, 17-year old Bria Metz by strangling her.

Another question: did anybody know that Martinez was in St. Petersburg? If so, why wasn’t he picked up before Metz died, but only afterwards? From today’s St. Pete Times:

Martinez, who is currently in the Pinellas County Jail on violation of probation stemming from a 2003 child abuse case, told detectives he was with Metz was at his home the night she disappeared.

Metz wanted money, Martinez told detectives, and he drove her to her grandmothers. The two argued about money and began fighting after Metz threatened to expose their relationship to law enforcement.

Martinez told detectives that he grabbed Metz’ neck and held her for three to five minutes.

Serial judicial leniency claims another life. Bria Metz joins Eugenia Calle, and how many other victims of murder, killed despite numerous chances to put their murderers away?

The Starving Criminal

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Recently, the august St. Petersburg Times sundered a little bit more of its augustness in the interest of chasing down the pocket change that passes for newspaper profits these days.

They started a mug shot page.

Not so long ago, the Times would not have chosen to publish people’s mug shots. Not so long ago, mug shot books were low-tech, if lucrative, publications, run off by the thousands and sold alongside car shopper catalogs in convenience stores to people whose interest in viewing the photos ranged from the personal to the prurient.

Well, we are all prurient now.

In addition to the pictures themselves, the Times posts an odd selection of data culled from the police reports. You can learn how many of the people arrested in the last sixty days have blue eyes (2,736) or weigh more than 300 pounds (98). You cannot learn how many people have been arrested for aggravated assault, or DUI, though you can click on individual mug shots to see the charges filed against that person. You also cannot know the outcome of the charges, whether the person is found innocent or guilty, or what type of sentence is handed down by the courts. The latter would be very useful information, and I do not see why it is so difficult for the Times to put off posting people’s mug shots until they can also report on case outcomes, except that judges frequently behave as if the public has no right to scrutinize the actions of the court. Knowing how much time a person actually gets for trying to kill their wife or causing an accident while drunk would be eye-opening.

But at least we know the color of those eyes.

Scrolling through the images of people who have just been arrested is haunting in more ways than one, though I imagine it quickly becomes routine, like becoming insensitive to violence in movies. Some of the people look terrified, and they are crying. Others look as if they don’t know how to cry. It may be false to imagine that you can read something about a person’s character from his or her mug shot, but many of the arrestees look unfed and unloved — un-nurtured. Scars, tattoos, torn-up faces, unfocused eyes, birth defects, malnutrition, drug ravages, blankness, rage: it is entirely possible to simultaneously pity them and hope they stay behind bars.

The British prison psychiatrist and author, Theodore Dalrymple, has an essay about malnutrition among young men in British jails. It is available at City Journal (“The Starving Criminal“) and in his book, Our Culture, What’s Left of It:

That many young inmates are grossly malnourished when they enter prison I have absolutely no doubt, because each day I see cases of severe malnutrition among those who have recently entered the adult prison in which I work. Of an average daily intake of 20 prisoners, perhaps six, of whom four are drug addicts, show obvious outward signs of malnutrition. A rough estimate (allowing for recidivism) would suggest that perhaps 1,000 malnourished men arrive in my prison annually: that means (if my prison is typical, and there is no reason to suppose otherwise) that each year at least 25,000 malnourished men enter the British prison system. . .

The prisoners’ teeth are falling out; their tongues are glisteningly smooth, angrily magenta red, and the corners of their mouths are cracked, as in vitamin B deficiency. They are in their early twenties to their early thirties.

Prison, Dalrymple observes, fattens these men up. Once free again, they return to starving themselves:

From the dietary point of view, freedom has the same effect upon them as a concentration camp; incarceration restores them to nutritional health. This is a new phenomenon, at least on the scale on which I now see it. Last week, for example, I treated in my hospital a skeletal man who had been released from prison only two months before and had in that short time lost 44 pounds. A recidivist, he had served many short sentences for theft, and his weight went up and down according to whether he was in prison or at liberty. This is a common enough pattern of weight gain and weight loss among the males of my city’s underclass. It has a meaning quite alien to those who believe that modern malnutrition is merely a symptom of poverty and inequality.

Dalrymple locates the cause for this malnourishment in a larger spiritual crisis, not of faith but of parenting and socialization, or rather the lack of these things. He describes one young burglar deprived of the life experience that teaches one to eat normally:

I asked the young man whether his mother had ever cooked for him.

“Not since my stepfather arrived. She would cook for him, like, but not for us children.”

I asked him what they—he and his brothers and sisters—had eaten and how they had eaten it.

“We’d just eat whatever there was,” he said. “We’d look for something whenever we was hungry.”

“And what was there?”

“Bread, cereals, chocolate—that kind of thing.”

“So you never sat round a table and ate a meal together?”

“No.”

In fact, he told me that he had never once eaten at a table with others in the last 15 years. Eating was for him a solitary vice, something done almost furtively, with no pleasure attached to it and certainly not as a social event. The street was his principal dining room, as well as his trash can: and as far as food was concerned, he was more a hunter-gatherer than a man living in a highly evolved society. . . .

It never takes many links in a chain of reasoning to get from their smooth and raw magenta tongues to the kind of family breakdown favored by a certain ideology of human relations, encouraged by our laws and fiscal system, and made viable by welfare payments. It is the breakdown of the family structure—a breakdown so complete that mothers do not consider it part of their duty to feed their own children once they have reached the age at which they can forage for themselves in a refrigerator . . . it is hardly surprising if young people who have not learned to socialize within the walls of their own homes, who have not learned even the minimal social disciplines required by people who eat together, should be completely antisocial in other respects.

One of the things that startled me about the children I met in similar households in Atlanta — before I had seen it enough times to grow insensitive to it — was the utter absence of any normal stimulus or routine, including mealtimes, in their daily lives. My neighbor, D., who produced at least fourteen children (we lost track after that), seemed to do no parenting at all beyond shoveling her offspring out the door to the school buses and social service program vans that literally lined up outside of her house every morning: I have no doubt the Head Start employees were the ones who taught many of D.’s children to eat.

Once, when she went into the hospital to deliver yet another child, her plan for feeding the rest apparently consisted of telling them to walk to my house and ask me for something to eat, and also to ask me to please not call social services on her for doing so. This was not out of any sense of pride, for anyone could hear D. chewing out the social workers who arrived like clockwork on her doorstep if they failed to provide her with this or that thing she was demanding. It wasn’t out of any sense of fear that the authorities would notice that she had acquired an expensive, wide-screen television and other pricey electronics despite her complete dependence on public funds: social workers are not allowed to ask questions about such things anymore.

I suspect D. didn’t want me to call the child protection workers because it would inconvenience her slightly to be accused of child neglect again. Not a big problem, and nothing would come of it, but an inconvenience nonetheless. Of course, the fathers were entirely absent, except when one of them needed a place to stay or a child to beat, it seemed.

When I look at the faces in the mug shots on the St. Petersburg Times’ website, I see many people who would be surprised that anybody was bothering to notice them — if they were capable of forming the emotion.

Tools for Activists: Good News From The Courts, For A Change

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I’m not a glass-half-full type of person.  But this story in the Atlanta Journal Constitution really must be categorized as a half-full glass: thanks to a lawsuit by the indomitable organization, Children’s Rights, headed by Ira Lustbader, children in foster care in Fulton County, Georgia are now one tiny step closer to being accorded the type of legal representation we routinely subsidize for murderers and rapists: 

Fulton County has made significant progress in reforming its troubled legal services for children in foster care, according to a report by a court-appointed monitor of the system.

The county Child Advocate Attorney’s Office has expanded its staff and dramatically reduced caseloads for attorneys, largely meeting the demands of a 2006 court settlement.

When the watchdog group Children’s Rights brought the lawsuit in 2002, each attorney represented as many as 500 children in the foster care system. Many children never met the attorneys assigned to represent them in juvenile court hearings, at which critical decisions were made about their lives — including whether they would be returned to their parents or be placed up for adoption, Children’s Rights said. 

The county has increased the number of attorneys from four at the time of the lawsuit to 16, bringing down caseloads to a range of 47 to 91 children per attorney, according to the report filed Friday.

I’ve never understood why innocent children facing life-changing decisions in the courts — through no fault of their own — rarely inspire the type of armchair heroics that animate people whenever some spectacularly evil murderer is facing the chair.  And the way we spend money reflects this cognitive gap.  For decades, the foster care system in Fulton County was not only underfunded and awful, it was so underfunded and awful that I imagine some of the children who progressed from foster care to prison could tell you that they barely noticed the difference.

Yet, convincing the public that this level of neglect is a systematic denial of childrens’ legal rights was, and is, an uphill climb.  Consequently, we’ve got a system where accused rapist and convicted four-time murderer Brian Nichols arrives at the courtroom trailed by reporters and surrounded by a phalanx of silk-stocking attorneys who proceed to contend utterly meaningless claptrap for months at a time at thousands of (taxpayer) dollars an hour, while down the hall some grossly underpaid and over-worked child protection attorney stands alone before a judge, forced to argue a position in a case he had no time to prepare, the outcome of which will determine whether an abused five-year old will be returned to the people who put her in pediatric ICU or be shipped off to a foster home that might save her life, or end it.

In other words, if we treated prisoners the way we treat foster children, Europeans would spend even more of their 23-hour work-week bashing the American justice system. 

If you’re up for a muscular and distressing read, a woman named Ashley Rhodes-Courter has written a memoir that details her time in various child-protection courtrooms and foster care settings in Florida. Despite the title, Three Little Words, it is startlingly unsentimental.

In addition to extraordinary problems, Georgia is lucky to have some extraordinary foster care resources, including the best child protection legal clinic in the country, The Barton Clinic of Emory Law School, founded by Andy and Michelle Barclay and State Representative Mary Margaret Oliver; the One Child, One Lawyer program, and a strong state CASA.  So there’s a glass-half full for a change.