The Atlanta Ten and the Miscarriage of Justice
On April 1, 2015, ten Atlanta Public School educators and officials were convicted of inflating the test scores of children from struggling Atlanta schools. For 4 years, 35 educators were said to have engaged in criminal racketeering by altering, fabricating or falsifying certified test answers, some of which occurred at organized cheating parties”.
Twenty of the 35 originally indicted plead guilty. Eleven took their case to trial and all but one was found guilty. Eighty-five percent (85%), of those originally charged were therefore convicted of the various offenses. See www.cnn.com/2015/04/us/georgia-atlanta-public-schools-cheating-scandal-verdict.
During the 5 month trial presiding Judge Jerry Baxter was anything but nice. Afterward he was even worse. He specifically advised the defendants to take the last-minute deal offered by the prosecuting attorney. He further warned that if convicted he would sentence the defendants to prison.
True to his word, two of the defendants are required to serve 7 years prison. The other defendants must serve anywhere from one year of home confinement to two years in the gray bar hotel.
We make no excuses for the defendants who were duly if not fairly convicted. Even with the many shortcomings of the system, wrong is wrong. Yet, we remain concerned about the fairness and reasonableness of the sentences.
Incarceration supposedly serves four purposes, i.e., punishment, protection of the public, deterrence and rehabilitation. Punishment is certainly served by these sentences. In fact, the judge allegedly admitted that a prison sentence would not be justice but retribution. www.rollingout.com/news/community-shocked-harsh-sentences-atlanta-teachers/.
However the sentences will deter no one from cheating on tests. Instead, greater emphasis will be placed on not getting caught. The hell of prison rehabilitates few if any and no reasonable argument can be made that protecting the public is achieved by imprisoning teachers and school administrators. Said defendants are hardly thugs, even if they did violate the law.
They instead appear to be good, middle class, middle-aged otherwise responsible law-abiding citizens with families and a history of civic involvement. In addition, their white color, non-violent offenses did not involve drugs, inappropriate sex or coercion. Only a small number of people were affected and these are their first and only offenses. Sadly, they are now convicted felons who have paid a heavy price for their indiscretions.
They were arrested, handcuffed, tried, convicted, and spent 13 days of presentence incarceration in county jail, many of which are worse than our prisons. Their jobs, incomes, credentials, certifications, licenses, good names and reputations are forever lost, besmirched and ruined.
Compare and contrast their sentences to that of others who are guilty of far worse, including but not limited to the Benghazi matter, the Savings & Loan Crisis of the early 80’s, the Iraq War and weapons of mass destruction, the Iran Contra affair, the IRS Scandal, the financial collapse and Wall Street debacle of 2007 or Watergate. The victims of these matters suffered far more than the Atlanta students. Many paid the ultimate price for sins not their own.
Yet, not one principal in any of these scandals served a single day in jail. They weren’t even handcuffed. Many were instead rewarded with high paying positions, lucrative book deals and paid TV appearances.
For example, those directly responsible for the biggest foreign policy disaster in our nation’s history, the Iraq War, are routinely consulted about foreign policy issues and serve on the staff of at least one Presidential candidate, i.e., Jeb Bush. The same is true of the speculators, hedge fund managers and bank executives who caused and benefited from the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression. Not only have they not paid for their crimes they are lionized as pillars of the community.
Even the few rich and powerful that have been convicted and sentenced, e. g., Bob McDonald former Governor of Virginia or Lewis “Scooter’ Libby, in the Valeria Plame affair, received a slap on the wrist compared to the Atlanta Ten. A day after his conviction for outing a CIA agent and then lying about it, Libby was offered a job as senior advisor for the Hudson Institute. Shortly thereafter, his sentence was commuted by then President George Bush. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Scooter_Libby.
In sentencing the Atlanta Ten to prison, Judge Baxter noted that this is not a victimless crime. These kids can’t read.” Perhaps!
However, by elevating the mindless passing of standardized test over reading, reasoning and analytical thinking, as mandated by the non-funded, ill-advised “No Child Left Behind Act”, the Atlanta school children were doomed to a life of illiteracy regardless the conduct of the teachers and administrators.
The ugly truth is that Judge Baxter was not motivated by a legitimate concern for the children, his assertions to the contrary. Neither justice nor the children are advanced by jailing teachers. Instead of burdening the taxpayer with a bill of approximately $25,000 per year per inmate, a better disposition would have been to compel the defendants to use their unique, tax supported skills to help others.
The judge was instead peeved at the defendants for daring to invoke their Sixth Amendment right to a jury trial. He was pissed at them for having the temerity to reject his advice to accept the prosecutor’s last minute plea deal. And he was incensed at the Atlanta Ten for not being sufficiently humble, adequately contrite, and/or admitting their guilt to his level of satisfaction. Nothing angers those in power more than the failure to agree with them.
When Gerald Ford pardoned Nixon he reasoned that the President who had committed high crimes and misdemeanors” by orchestrating a politically motivate break-in and cover-up “had suffered enough.” A reasonable argument can be made that the Atlanta Ten have also suffered enough?
In conclusion, the propensity of the criminal justice system to constantly act in bad faith is nothing less than astounding. Prior to sentencing the judge reasoned that “it was time for the defendants to search their souls.” Perhaps he should have followed his own advice?
Leo Barron Hicks, Founder and CEO
Blackacre Policy Forum