I know that Dante actions caused the deaths of four people. But please don’t give him life in prison. He suffers from ‘Povertenza’. You may not know about this condition but Povertenza is an illness that people from impoverished socioeconomic backgrounds have.
Due to the inability to access quality education and employment, Dante’s development has been stifled. This leads to poor decision making and I would further argue that since his neighborhood sees so much death and destruction, that he may even suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome in addition to Povertenza.
Judge, it is clear that Dante can not be held responsible for his actions. He needs rehabilitation, not prison. Prison would only worsen his mental condition.
This defense obviously doesn’t work for black and poor youth. Yet, news outlets are spiraling about 16-year-old Ethan Couch who caused the deaths of four people by drunk driving. His defense was that he suffered from “Affluenza” — a disorder that only the affluent have. According to his lawyers, Couch was shielded from personal responsibility his entire life. Discipline is not a word in his vocabulary.
Judge Jean Boyd sentenced him Tuesday to 10 years of probation but no jail time, saying she would work to find him a long-term treatment facility.
But Eric Boyles, who lost his wife and daughter in the crash, said on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” “There are absolutely no consequences for what occurred that day. The primary message has to absolutely be that money and privilege can’t buy justice in this country.” –CNN
Basically, Couch was coddled his entire life and now his punishment is more coddling.
On the flip side, there are millions of under-privileged youth across America, that have lived under the worst conditions imaginable. They’ve witnessed murders, endured hunger, and survived sexual abuse. However, upon committing a crime, they are handed down the harshest prison sentences imaginable. As I’ve pointed out before, many youth spend years in prison for crimes they didn’t commit because they didn’t have enough money to sway the justice system or get proper legal counsel. It’s a non-laughable joke.
If “Affluenza” is real, then I posit that my newly coined “Povertenza” be considered. Instead of jumping to fill up prisons, let’s start putting youth from disadvantaged backgrounds in treatment facilities. This would be ideal, but it won’t happen because there is too much money to be made. This is one of the reasons why Judge Mark Ciavarella, Jr. was able to sell 5,000 children to prisons.
Disgraced Pennsylvania judge Mark Ciavarella, Jr. has been sentenced to 28 years in prison for conspiring with private prisons to sentence juvenile offenders to maximum sentences for bribes and kickbacks which totaled millions of dollars. He was also ordered to pay $1.2 million in restitution.
In the private prison industry the more time an inmate spends in a facility, the more of a profit is reaped from the state. Ciavearella was a figurehead in a conspiracy in the state of Pennsylvania which saw thousands of young men and women unjustly punished and penalized in the name of corporate profit. –Examiner
Most of the children he sentenced are likely to be from backgrounds that are far less privileged than anything Ethan Couch has experienced. His sentencing tells us a lot about the American justice system and how deeply embedded economic disparities are when it comes to accountability. Essentially, the poor are expected to be more accountable for their actions while the wealthy are viewed as inherently respectable (especially if they’re white). Being from what people view as a “good” family can go a long way. This opens the door for more opportunities and the right to be viewed as non-threatening even when your actions prove otherwise. This is exactly why racial and economic inequalities are an on-going battle.
The next time someone tells you that there is no such thing as “White” privilege or elitism, ask them why Affluenza is a viable defense but Povertenza isn’t.
* Originally published on Huffington Post.