February 23, 2010
Do you remember the scene at the end of “Wyatt Earp” where Kevin Costner holds off a lynch mob intent on stringing up a cowboy accused of murder? Me too. What I like about that scene is that it portrays a lawman who cared more for justice than he did for his own skin. He was willing to die to uphold justice. Holding off a mob would have taken some guts, but more importantly it took leadership.
The problem with the justice system in Colorado (and the nation) today is enshrined right there in the mission statements of half of the District Attorneys in the state. At www.AdamsBroomfieldDA.org the DA is charged with both “pursuing justice” and “hold[ing] the trust and respect of the citizens.” Here’s the problem folks: You can’t do both! Either the DA is a politician (nothing like Wyatt Earp) or he’s a lawman. More often than not, DAs choose to be politicians first. They’d rather “pursue” justice and fail than disappoint the mob.
I suspect that’s what has happened with the recent release of the Obama Administration’s Budget for the Department of Justice. According to a newly released report from the Justice Policy Institute, the President has completely abdicated leadership on juvenile justice issues–reducing juvenile justice and delinquency prevention funding by $133 million for FY2011. According to the report, the likely result will be:
… [less] money spent on prevention, and in innovative programs that rely less on incarceration, [which] may result in reduced public safety, more justice-involved youth, increasing racial disparities and diminished life outcomes for [...] youth [that] will impact not just themselves and their families but the health and well-being of communities and the nation as a whole.
In a nutshell: We’re sacrificing long-term solutions for short-term results that will put more kids in adult prisons and turn them into life-long criminals. DAs love this scenario because it means they’ll see half of the children they put in prison again. And the federal government has made it clear: THAT MEANS MORE FUNDING. The cycle will repeat over and over again until we put DAs in their place and let judges do their jobs.
So I’ll say it one more time, “so much for leadership; so long to justice.” We’re quickly becoming a country that prefers mob rule and political imprisonment to “separation of powers” and “justice for all.”
February 11, 2010
Please join the folks behind stopdirectfile.org as we host a head-to-head debate between Colorado Juvenile Defender Coalition attorney Kim Dvorchak and a Colorado District Attorney. The debate will focus on the question: should Colorado prosecutors retain the power to charge juveniles as adults? StopDirectFile.org hopes this debate will force the District Attorneys to take an honest look at the many moral and legal problems of Direct File.
The debate is scheduled for Thursday, March 18, 2010 and will be held in room 165 of the Strum School of Law at the University of Denver. The event begins at 5pm, and will be followed by a meet and eat; which will be a wonderful opportunity to meet others who are battling against this harmful statute.
The event is being sponsored and supported by numerous groups, including: The League of Women Voters, New Era Colorado, the Greater Denver Interfaith Alliance, and many others.
Apart from being an important debate, this is our opportunity to show the DAs how the citizens of Colorado feel about this issue. The more supporters who show up, the louder they will hear our message. Please plan to attend, and RSVP to: StopDirectFile@yahoo.com or call 720-314-1402.
February 9, 2010
Want proof that DA’s abuse Direct File? Check out the story of DA Dan May and the three teenage children he is charging as adults for robbing a 7-11. Direct File was intended to be used in cases of heinous crimes, such as columbine style mass killings – now it is being used against kids who rob a convenience store.
Robbing a 7-11 is a crime and those who do it should be prosecuted and, if convicted, serve time . But robbing a convenience store is not an excuse for a DA to ruin the lives of three children. Tried as adults, 3 children will face sentences of up to 30 years. Where will DA’s draw the line? Will shoplifting soon become a Direct File worthy offense? Steal a pack of Sweet Tarts and go to adult prison? Perhaps jay-walking should be included? After all, it is against the law.
The power to make the decision to charge a child offender as an adult should be used very carefully by a person who does not see it as a political tool as Mr. May clearly does. I’m sure this move on his part will be touted as a “tough on crime” record in his reelection bid…as three teenagers are being raped in adult prison.
February 8, 2010
Alamosa Prosecutor Dan McIntyre wants us to believe that if John Caudle killed his mother and step father it was over a dispute about chores. That would tie things up nicely. Never mind that the child he wants to try as an adult spent 14 years enduring severe neglect and abuse.
According to a recent interview with family friend Cecile Dinsmore in The Valley Courier, Caudle’s mother Joanne Rinebarger was an abusive drug addict who “killed every bit of joy in [John's] life, and took everything that he loved away from him as punishment.”
…But never mind all that because what is really on trial in the case of the State of Colorado vs. John Caudle is really justice vs. politics; right vs. wrong. McIntyre is seeking two consecutive 40 year sentences. Unless he expects Caudle to live to be 95 in prison, that’s a slow death sentence. McIntyre needs us to believe that he’s trying a “monster” because that is the only thing that justifies the monstrous vengeance he’s seeking.
More than anything, McInTyre needs us to believe that monstrous vengeance is justified. If we don’t believe that vengeance is necessary then he can’t justify it to himself. Like most prosecutors, McIntyre knows that kids are different from adults. He knows there are numerous studies (see references) that show kids are prone to risky, emotionally driven behavior. McIntyre knows that adolescents, while maturing, are not mature enough to make adult decisions in the heat of the moment.
Finally, McIntyre knows that using the practice of direct file to mete out cruel and unusual punishment to John Caudle is unconscionable. If John Caudle killed his mother and his step father then he ought to be incarcerated, but he shouldn’t be warehoused in cold storage for the rest of his life. As a child, Caudle deserves a chance at redemption.
Trying Caudle as an adult using direct file is wrong. McIntyre knows the difference between right and wrong; he just doesn’t care.
In the end, everything that Dan McIntyre knows makes him more of a monster than John Caudle will ever be.
February 5, 2010
When it looks like progress is being made in juvenile justice reform, sometimes its best to look again. Illinois recently passed legislation that would treat 17-year-olds as adults when they commit felonies and children when they commit misdemeanors.
But according to an article by Mary Schenck at NewsGazette.com that just provides law enforcement officials in Illinois with an incentive to charge kids with a felony instead of a misdemeanor.
Area police are aware of the change in the law and are reacting accordingly.
“We’re asking our officers to be very diligent on their use of charges on 17-year-olds,” said Champaign police Lt. Joe Gallo.
Sheriff’s Lt. Ed Ogle said if a case is “borderline” between a misdemeanor and felony, it might be better to arrest a 17-year-old for a felony “to get him or her incarcerated and defuse the situation.”
The state’s attorney’s office usually makes charging decisions within less than 24 hours of an arrest.
I’m sure Illinois state lawmakers are lauding themselves for striking a balance between justice and politics. But when you take half measures sometimes you just get cut off at the knees and the throat.
State Lawmakers should consider this: It is always politically correct to do what’s right. Laws that are ambiguous as to whether a juvenile should be treated as a child or an adult are as unjust as laws that treat kids as adults across the board.
February 2, 2010
The Death Penalty, a sentence which our society reserves for the most heinous crimes, has always been a subject of intense debate. DA’s who recommend death as a just sentence can only do so in the most extreme cases, and are often second guessed by judges and juries. Why is it, then, that a Juvenal Life Without Parole sentence is so easily accepted by society? When we send a prisoner to jail with a death sentence, we are saying that society and the interests of justice are best served by the certain death of that person. What are we saying when we send a child to jail without the possibility of parole?
DA’s who make the decision to file adult charges and seek a sentence of life without parole know the prison system well enough to predict the abuse and horror that will greet that child. Those DA’s know that a child in an adult prison can look forward to years of rape, solitary confinement, and very often at least one suicide attempt. How exactly does a life without parole sentence differ from a death sentence?
In both cases DA’s are making the determination that society and justice are best served by removing and isolating the offender. In both cases, DA’s have decided that the idea of rehabilitation does not apply to the offender. In both cases society has locked up the offender and thrown away the key. The only difference that I can see is that the criminal with the death sentence knows there is a point when the horrors of prison life will end. The child who is incarcerated as an adult without the possibility of parole has no such knowledge, instead that child looks at a future full of nothing but pain and abuse. How is justice served in such a case, and why does out society allow such barbaric treatment of children?
Organizations like The Other Death Penalty Project are working to end this horrific hypocrisy. Please help them by visiting their website and getting the word out.