Pre-Holiday Mop-Up: Marvin Arrington and Georgia Juvenile Justice Take Me To School

I wrote this a few weeks back and never posted it: I was waiting for a confirmation of some details.  In December, Crime Victims Media Report will be re-launching with more emphasis on The Guilty Project, an effort to document the ways prolific and violent offenders avoid justice.

I have been hearing recently from crime victims, their families, and other people who personally knew offenders before they were caught: their stories are compelling, and they have a lot to say about the justice system that needs to be heard by wider audiences.

There are millions of Americans who aren’t criminals but have been denied justice because some criminal got away with murder thanks to a lenient judge, or because the system is simply hard-wired to let offenders go.  These stories need to be told, and they are not being told in newspapers.  Meanwhile, as the following illustrates, too many of our courtrooms have become therapeutic entities for the benefit of even the most violent offenders.  If you know of a case or a court ruling that deserves notice, please contact me, either on the website or at my e-mail, tinatrent2@yahoo.com.

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Over at Georgia Juvenile Justice, somebody’s rather upset that, way back in an editorial published in early September, I called Judge Marvin Arrington the “host” of a graduation party held from some violent inmate, rather than the “invited guest speaker.”  Here is their complaint, which got cc’d to a bunch of state employees and then mailed to Sunday Paper a mere six weeks after my editorial ran:

Permit me to respond to your editorial entitled “Judge Marvin Arrington’s Criminal Court” in the September 2, 2009 issue of The Sunday Paper.  This editorial unwittingly perpetrates a myth concerning Judge Arrington’s role at the Metro Regional Youth Detention Center’s (Metro RYDC) graduation last May.  You should be aware of the following facts.

Judge Arrington did not hold a “graduation party” for a convicted felon at the Metro RYDC.  This graduation was arranged by the Georgia Department of Juvenile Justice’s (DJJ) Education Department.  This graduation ceremony was one of several held at DJJ facilities during the 2008 – 2009 DJJ school year.

Judge Arrington was simply invited as a speaker for the occasion. . .

Well, excusez-moi for not getting the table settings right.  Arrington was, in fact, the graduation speaker, though in the writer’s quest to minimize the judge’s role, he slides past that point for a few sentences.

Anyway, what I actually wrote was this:

Last spring, Arrington also held a “graduation party” for a convicted felon awaiting new charges at the Atlanta Metro Youth Detention Center.

So the Juvenile Justice official is right that Arrington didn’t “throw” the party for a convicted felon awaiting new charges but was merely the “honored guest” at the party for a convicted felon awaiting new charges.  It’s a tiny point, and, of course, not the point of my editorial.  My point was that Arrington, like many judges, behaves as if his role is to boost the self-esteem of violent young convicts rather than doing the things that are supposed to be his job: holding offenders responsible for their actions, protecting the public, and enforcing the law through appropriate sentencing.

Unfortunately, the courts are awash with ceremonies and celebrations for offenders.  In the trendy rush to treat offenders like “clients” and practice a therapeutic jurisprudence that wins praise from the academic/media/defense bar cabal, judges are too often tempted to abandon their role as enforcers of the law.  Sometimes they do this in the courtroom itself.  Sometimes they go off-site to other places to do it, but the effect is the same: they are carrying their title as judge with them.  They are speaking for the court and getting paid by the very same taxpayers who are being victimized by these offenders’ crimes.

And meanwhile, while they’re busy doing these other things, they’re also using the excuse that there aren’t enough resources to address all crimes, so most cases get pleaded away or postponed into perpetuity.  The prisons are full, they tell us, when what they really mean is that they philosophically oppose incarceration as deterrence.  The courts are suddenly broke, they’re telling us now, as if routinely pleading out 90% of all cases because they lacked the resources to try them in the past, right up until yesterday, wasn’t proof that they were broke before.

Back to my schooling.  I didn’t, incidentally, get the party’s location wrong, nor did I allege that Arrington presided over this particular offender’s trial, nor did I mention (let alone misrepresent) any of the other programs the Justice Department official reeled off in his demand that I stop “perpetrating myths” — I wasn’t even writing about those things.  This complaint letter by a state official is sadly dishonest throughout, both accusing me of misrepresenting facts I did not misrepresent and reeling off a list of corrections to the record about subjects I did not mention.

I suggest they get busy over at Juvenile Justice working on a retraction of the things of which they falsely accused me — or I might just sit myself down and write a firm letter to the editor complaining about them, by, say, January or February.

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In the real world, where I was busy making the argument I was actually making, here is what I actually wrote about Marvin Arrington:

Last spring, Arrington also held a “graduation party” for a convicted felon awaiting new charges at the Atlanta Metro Youth Detention Center.

Robert Harris, 17, finished high school while incarcerated for a home invasion and armed robbery that sent three people to the hospital–two with head injuries from being pistol-whipped, one beaten so badly he had to have a testicle removed. Terrorized residents of the neighborhood where the crime occurred went to the courthouse and demanded that Harris not be released before trial (as he likely would have been).

Arrington’s response to the community’s outrage? He threw Harris a party, a two-hour ceremony with cake, balloons, cameramen and newspaper reporters, and Arrington as “graduation speaker” for the class of one graduating senior.

“You are as good as anybody,” Arrington told him.

Is he? That’s quite a message to send to the thousands of Atlanta students who graduated from high school last year without any detours for pistol-whipping or testicle-crushing.

Ah yes, the testicle-crushing.  Now that is quite a bit close to my actual point.  But, amazingly, Juvenile Justice felt the need to correct one point about that point, too.  They write:

[Arrington] told all of the students they are as good as anybody, not just the graduate.

That is one fascinatingly pointillistic complaint.  Let me see if I can paraphrase: I criticized Arrington for telling a violent, repeat offender who has mutilated and pistol-whipped people that he is “as good as” non-violent, non-repeat-offender, non-testicle-crushing, non-pistol-whipping youths, and Juvenile Justice retorts that my criticism is out of line because the judge was including other offenders in his Hallmark moment.

Somebody over at JJ needs to take a walk.  Or a pill.

Of course he was addressing the whole room, which doubtlessly contained other youths who are also not as good as youths who do not break laws and torture people.  I, at least, wouldn’t say that all the kids in that room are as bad as the ones who have, say, tried to beat people to death.

Are we now not even allowed to say that it’s “bad” to try to kill people by crushing their testicles and beating their heads in?  All things considered, if one young man spends his spare time delivering Meals on Wheels and the other spends his spare time beating rival gang members into the ICU, are we not allowed to distinguish between them in any way?  Does time in the can for aggravated assault equal one Boy Scout Merit Badge in the cosmic college application that is life?

More to the point, don’t the people at Juvenile Justice have better things to do with their time than make inane arguments like this in print?  For that matter, don’t they have anything at all to say about my editorial’s actual subject: serial leniency towards extremely violent offenders?  No?  Not one peep?  Try engaging the subject next time.  The public deserves better.  You are public servants: these are serious issues.  That letter was a joke and an embarrassment.

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And it was more than that.  Did someone in Marvin Arrington’s office demand that Juvenile Justice take some action on my editorial?  It certainly looks that way.  Was this letter, correcting a tiny point weeks after the fact, and neglecting the editorial itself, actually a nervous capitulation to Arrington’s apparent anger at being challenged — challenged?!!

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What’s sad about all of this, besides the apparent sense of entitlement and possible misuse of power, is that Arrington and I share a deep concern for the futures of the young men who go through his court.

I think I’m alone among people I know in not being bothered by the highly-publicized incident in which Arrington threw all the white people out of his court-room in order to talk tough with the young defendants there, all, apparently, African-Americans. (I would feel differently if non-black defendants were present and were subsequently treated differently).

This is what I think about what Arrington did that day: he was treating the young men’s behavior like the emergency that it is, for a change.

I used to let a group of extremely high-risk children into my home so I could feed them and help them with their homework, until one too many of them stole one too many things from me.  First, I stopped letting them come in the door, and then I had to even stop letting them up on my porch.

It was a worthless intervention anyway: all but one of them is either in prison or would be in prison if running up a long rap sheet got you incarcerated these days.

This is what that experience taught me: for a lot of the kids in juvenile facilities, incarceration is probably not only far safer than what passes for their home life, but a lot more productive in terms of securing them some type of decent future.  For virtually all of the young men who commit crimes bad enough to land them in a juvenile facility, being there is probably their best chance to try to finish school and avoid getting shot before they’re 25.  Consequences for committing crimes saves lives.

And don’t forget deterrence, because it’s not all about the offenders, no matter what many seem to think.  I can’t believe this must be said out loud, but it is hardly taken for granted in the current climate: incarcerating young offenders protects other people, especially their peers, from the dangers they pose.

However, we’re hardly allowed to talk about “deterrence” these days, let alone “punishment.”  Such words have become taboo in the therapeutic courtroom, where judges are far too eager to “relate” to offenders, instead of holding them accountable.

And so I committed a sin apparently more notable than pistol-whipping, stomping, torturing, shooting, or even killing someone: I slightly misrepresented Marvin Arrington’s table-place at a party for a violent serial offender.  Good thing the Juvenile Justice Department and the Fulton Superior Court jumped eagerly to make sure this terrible transgression, unlike so many others on their plate, did not pass unnoticed.

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3 thoughts on “Pre-Holiday Mop-Up: Marvin Arrington and Georgia Juvenile Justice Take Me To School”

  1. “For virtually all of the young men who commit crimes bad enough to land them in a juvenile facility, being there is probably their best chance to try to finish school and avoid getting shot before they’re 25. Consequences for committing crimes saves lives”.

    Agreed. And finishing requirements for a HS/GED makes them all slightly more employable, and hence, again less likely to need longer incarceration in the future. (Depending on many different factors and contexts however). While many can justly argue with Arrington on many different points and with a couple of his more boneheaded moves, this however is probably not one of them. They had a graduation. They needed a speaker, so why not someone who’s at least familiar with the Justice system here? Sorry Linda Chavez, Heather MacDonald & Kay Hymowitz and their swells over @ City Journal could not make it. He was in town & did the gig. Now you can argue with the ‘accouterments’ & ‘celebratory finery’, whatever. They were probably likely not his doing.

    Do I want dangerous punks like Harris locked up and off our streets for longer periods of time? You betcha! And yes, some of these kids are not likely to be soon ‘redeemed’ or ‘reformed’, (if ever). Many people still firmly believe in deterrence & punishment. It’s pretty a common where the public is concerned. Still it’s worthwhile to the state to have these criminal miscreants better educated & finally able to read when they exit the system, than just leaving them to rot. That was one of the original missions of the ‘penitentiary system’ as it was invented in the 18th & 19th centuries. And no, I’m not talking about ‘golden plated’ semi-glorified grad degrees here either.

  2. But in reality, nobody leaves anybody to rot. You can’t walk two blocks down most poor neighborhoods without passing some social service facility, funded by the taxpayers. Billions are poured into all sorts of programs, in and outside of youth facilities. It isn’t working because the programs don’t ask the right things of people. And they offer the wrong things — such as approbation and “self-esteem” for people who ought to be experiencing consequences instead.

    In contrast, the “swells” at City Journal, as you put it (a fun Monopoly riff), have done more to save lives and improve educational outcomes for deprived youth with the policies they promote than the entire cabal of activists who oppose incarceration and rail against the police and resist educational sobriety and otherwise waste our money in ways that actually harm everyone.

    I’d rather have the top-hatted ladies keep plugging away on improving public policy than waste their time showing up at some party to stroke the ego of some little monster partying on our dime.

    Imagine what that one offender cost us in health care, alone, for his victims. Explain, again, why he deserves any “party” which requires expenditures for security, and transportation, and time away from ordinary court activities? We’re going into court furloughs; decent, law-abiding citizens who get victimized are watching their cases disappear for lack of resources to investigate and try them, and Arrington takes time out of the courtroom to do this? This is far from the only instance, and he’s far from the only person frittering away scarce resources.

    Courts are for all people, not just criminals.

    It is not just that Arrington went there; it is not just that he told that thug he is “as good as” people who don’t try to kill: the problem is that he and other judges carry this attitude into the courtroom every time they let violent offenders back onto the streets, a systematic practice in Fulton County and elsewhere.

    Judges are not taking crime seriously enough. We have endowed them with too much power in sentencing, and their serial failures to consider prior records and actually take the time to uncover all the facts about defendants have led to the release of too many violent criminals to count. People have died because of their failure to scrutinize prior records, or to consider the information they receive in the proper light. Every effort is made, in virtually every case, to minimize time behind bars.

    And I don’t buy the argument that they’re under too much financial duress. They’ve been under too much duress for decades, and they chose during that time not to raise the roof and come to the public and make the case that they couldn’t do their jobs adequately on their budgets — DAs too.

    Every judge in the country is suddenly shouting that they don’t have enough money to run their courts. Well, they didn’t have enough money all those years they were busy denying most victims justice by pleading down 90% of their caseload, either, and you didn’t hear a peep out of them then.

    If they want the public to support them now, they need to start explaining why it was OK to operate like that, at the expense of victims of crime, as things went to hell on the streets and serial offenders churned through their courtrooms, barely hampered on the way out the door.

    Harris is not a “punk.” He is an attempted murderer who has not even been charged with the right crime because leniency starts the moment a DA receives the file; leniency also applies because of his age. We have all failed his victims. Already.

    That reality deserves to hang in the air a bit.

  3. “They had a graduation.”

    Horse hockey: One person graduated. One. And a degree- of any type- makes it less likely that he will *need* to offend again? Huh. So he needed to almost kill three people? What’d they have, a flat screen that he *needed* to feel good about himself? Which is, after all, the point of life, right?

    Tina, I wish you would pdf that letter, in its entirety, signature included.

    Happy Thanksgiving! Keep the door locked!

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