Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Ethan Couch and the Incarceration Nation


Ethan Couch got the type of justice that is often meted out to the children of the rich, powerful or well-connected.  One of our local representatives has a son who habitually drives drunk.  Yet, he has not served significant jail time.  I live in Athens, where drunken behavior is not uncommon among students.  In court, I have seen well-heeled parents and their children appear in court with good lawyers, well-dressed, compliant and remorseful.  They go to PTD (pre-trial diversion) or drug court – ways to avoid having a permanent criminal history.  The wretched of the earth go to jail.  Color and class matter in the criminal justice system.

Though it did not get much mention, it was well-known that George Zimmerman’s family was tied into the local courthouse crowd.  Judge Jean Boyd’s sentence of ten years’ probation is not unusual, but it is disturbing.  Black or low-income defendants are more likely to get prison time when they commit the same or lesser offenses than the well-to-do.

If Ethan Couch had been black and living in the deep South and his victims were white, it is virtually certain that he would have been sentenced to 10 years (or more) in prison.  Nevertheless, I am not terribly opposed to the ten year probated sentence.  I only urge us to consider that if affluenza is a debilitating influence, imagine the effect of poverty, deprivation and racism.  All young defendants deserve the opportunity to have great counsel, have a second chance to get it right, benefit from equine therapy and become productive citizens.  In this way, we might climb down from the precipice that has made the U.S. the incarceration nation.

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