Tag: juvenile justice

“Affluenza” controversy sparks terrific debate

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James McAuley

By Alan Bean

The debate over the Ethan Couch case isn’t over.  It’s all about the sixteen year-old who killed four people with his Ford F-350 truck while driving with  a blood alcohol level three times the legal limit.  The prosecution was asking for twenty years, but Judge Jean Boyd gave the kid ten years of probation with the understanding that he would receive treatment at a posh California rehab center at the cost of $450,000/year.  During the sentencing hearing, defense counsel argued that Couch was a victim of “affluenza”.

James McAuley, a Harvard senior currently studying as a Marshall scholar at Oxford, sees the self-absorbed, amoral Couch as a symptom of white-flight myopia. McAuley is in his mid-twenties, but he has thought long and hard about the spirituality of the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex.  (The New York Times published his insightful piece on Dallas circa 1963 last month.)  Here’s the heart of his argument: (more…)

The political roots of mass incarceration

By Alan Bean

If you want to know how America became the incarceration nation, locking up six times as many of our citizens as most western democracies, look no further than this story.

I’ll admit it, my blood boils when I think of the reckless behavior of a pampered kid from a wealthy family destroying so many innocent lives.  And experience (and prejudice) leads me to suspect that an indigent defendant would not have fared nearly as well.

But you don’t change legislation in response to a single case.  This is always how it works in America.  The populous gets up in arms about an isolated case bristling with unusually bad facts.  Next, the politicians chime in with promises of vengeance.  They sense a political opportunity and fear the consequences of appearing soft.  Finally, bad laws are passed giving rise to a host of unintended consequences.

Hopefully this story will be long forgotten by the time legislators have a chance to exploit it.  But if a law is passed to ensure that rich kids are held accountable, the first to suffer will be the usual suspects from the wrong side of the tracks.

Would Texas be a safer place if the young man at the heart of this story had been sentenced to 20 years?  Inmates are released back into society in 95% of cases and generally re-enter the community as walking time bombs ticking loudly.  Prison crushes the human spirit–that is what it is designed to do.  We stopped talking about rehabilitation forty years ago.

The desire for revenge is natural and understandable, but it makes for incredibly bad public policy.  If you aren’t sure what I mean, read on . . . (more…)