Wednesday, March 28, 2007


This is a horrible story:

A teenager has been jailed for more than a year for shoving a teacher's aide at her high school, a case that has sparked anger and heightened racial tensions in rural East Texas.

Shaquandra Cotton, who is black, claims the teacher's aide pushed her first and would not let her enter school before the morning bell in 2005. A jury convicted the 15-year-old girl in March 2006 on a felony count of shoving a public servant, who was not seriously injured.

...Under the sentence handed down by Lamar County Judge Chuck Superville, she will remain at the facility until she meets state rehabilitation standards or reaches her 21st birthday.

...Creola Cotton, Shaquandra's mother, and activists argue that while Superville sent Shaquandra to the state's juvenile prison system, he gave a white 14-year-old arsonist probation.

...In an interview with The Paris News, Superville said he chose the sentence because witnesses testified that placing Shaquandra back in her mother's care was not the best decision.

"If Shaquandra had been white, the outcome would have been the same," Superville said....

Excuse me -- jail? For seven years? For shoving a teacher's aide? That's better than returning her to her mother's care?

And I don't give a damn who pushed first -- this is an outrageous sentence.

A story that ran earlier this month in the Chicago Tribune makes this seem even more like the horrible outcome of a pattern of racism -- or, if not racism, institutionalized cruelty, or maybe just a vendetta against this girl (or her mother):

... the teen's defenders assert that long before the September 2005 shoving incident, Paris school officials targeted Shaquanda for scrutiny because her mother had frequently accused school officials of racism.

...Among the write-ups Shaquanda received ... were citations for wearing a skirt that was an inch too short, pouring too much paint into a cup during an art class and defacing a desk that school officials later conceded bore no signs of damage....

In prison she's treated like one of the worst of the worst -- and it seems, not surprisingly, to be taking its toll:

...Meanwhile, Shaquanda, a first-time offender, remains something of an anomaly inside the Texas Youth Commission prison system, where officials say 95 percent of the 2,500 juveniles in their custody are chronic, serious offenders who already have exhausted county-level programs such as probation and local treatment or detention.

...Three times she has tried to injure herself, first by scratching her face, then by cutting her arm. The last time, she said, she copied a method she saw another young inmate try, knotting a sweater around her neck and yanking it tight so she couldn't breathe. The guards noticed her sprawled inside her cell before it was too late.

..."I get paranoid when I get around some of these girls," Shaquanda said. "Sometimes I feel like I just can't do this no more--that I can't survive this."

Good grief.

It should be noted that the Texas Youth Commission

has been in turmoil since late February, when a two-year-old investigation into allegations of sexual abuse of inmates and a possible cover-up by TYC officials were reported in the media.

Since then, the board and several top staffers have resigned and the supervisor of the juvenile lockup in Marlin was arrested on a misdemeanor charge of lying to investigators.

Remember, that's sexual abuse of teenage inmates.

The now-resigned head of the TYC was Don Bethel, who owned a realty company and had been the president of a tire company when then-governor George W. Bush named him to head the Texas Department of Housing and Community Affairs in 1998; he'd also been the mayor of Lamesa, Texas (pop. 10,000). I'm not sure how this qualified him to head the board of a state youth correctional system. Shortly before he and the rest of the board resigned, they used the Sergeant Schultz defense before angry state legislators wondering how they missed all the trouble investigators were uncovering in their system ("'I'm not sure how it happened,' said Board Chairman Don Bethel of Lamesa").

But maybe the scandal will, at least, get Shaquanda Cotton out of jail. Meanwhile, here's the Free Shaquanda Cotton blog.


I should have noted this Chicago Tribune follow-up:

The sentences of many of the 4,700 delinquent youths now being held in Texas' juvenile prisons might have been arbitrarily and unfairly extended by prison authorities and thousands could be freed in a matter of weeks as part of a sweeping overhaul of the scandal-plagued juvenile system, state officials say....

Among the leading candidates for early release is Shaquanda Cotton....

... officials at the Ron Jackson Correctional Complex have repeatedly extended Shaquanda's sentence because she refuses to admit her guilt and because she was found with contraband in her cell--an extra pair of socks....

The mind reels.


UPDATE: Pam's House Blend has more on the sex abuse allegations in the TYC prison system -- and she links an article that questions why Alberto Gonzales's Justice Department failed to bring any charges as a result of the TYC investigation

Oddly, the article Pam quotes is at the far-right World Net Daily; many on the right, I guess, want to throw Gonzales under a bus, either because it's believed that doing so might spare more important figures or because he's not seen as a true loyalist to the right-wing Cause.

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