Mother gets 99 years for beating, gluing daughter: Has the US had it with bad parents?
Elizabeth Escalona, a 23-year-old mother of five, was sentenced to 99 years in prison after severely beating her daughter and gluing the girl’s hands to a wall. The sentence is one sign that society – and the courts – are taking child abuse more seriously.
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During the trial, prosecutor Eren Price showed the word “liar” on a projection screen and later replaced it with the word “monster.”Skip to next paragraph
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“You can give Jocelyn and her brothers and sister peace," Ms. Price told the judge. "You can give them peace, so that when they're sitting around the dinner table at Thanksgiving with their big family, they're not worried that their mother is going to come walking through the door."
Escalona pleaded with the judge to believe a counselor who testified that she could be rehabilitated
“I’m asking for a second opportunity to show you I’m not the monster everybody thinks I am,” Escalona said. “I’m asking from the bottom of my heart to give me a second chance.”
Escalona’s attorney, Angie N’Duka, had asked for probation or a short prison sentence. “Giving Elizabeth the opportunity to be a better mother, giving her the opportunity to get counseling services, that will be justice for Jocelyn,” N’Duka said.
Under Texas law, Judge Mitchell had a range of punishment options, from probation to a life sentence. Of the 2,100 Texas inmates serving prison time for felony injury offenses against children or the elderly, about 5 percent received sentences of 99 years or greater, according to the Texas Department of Criminal Justice.
“Outside of the context of this trial, I think even the state would find you a sympathetic figure, because they prosecute people for what was done to you,” Judge Mitchell said. “But I can’t consider that evidence outside the context of this trial.”
The Dallas case is an extreme example of what are daily, ordinary parental and institutional dilemmas over how to discipline children and whether spanking and paddling are appropriate ways to help kids curb bad behavior.
That debate is alive and well as 31 states have outlawed paddling in school, while 19 still allow it. The Center for Effective Discipline, which seeks to end corporal punishment in schools, says over 200,000 school kids are struck each year in the US, though that number has been declining steadily since the 1980s. Total child abuse cases have declined by at least one-quarter since 1997, recent studies suggest.
Texas is a hotbed of the debate.
In September, Springtown High School expanded its corporal punishment policy after parents complained that a male administrator had paddled two girls for speaking sarcastically to an adult. And last year a Texas county judge, William Adams, had to defend himself against a video put on YouTube by his daughter, showing him administering powerful belt lashes as punishment for illegally downloading songs from the Internet.
Even as state laws allow parents broad latitude in what researchers call "pro-social use of violence," support for spanking has been declining for decades. From 1986 to 2008, it has declined from 83 percent to 70 percent, according to the General Social Survey conducted by the National Opinion Research Center at the University of Chicago.
Indeed, the decline of spanking as a societal norm has likely helped to put the focus on cases where discipline goes too far, researchers say. At the same time, too much focus on the most egregious cases of child abuse can breed cynicism rather than generate sympathy for how society can better support parents in the difficult task of raising well-adjusted children.
Cases like the one in Dallas “actually makes the problem seem harder to solve than it really is,” suggests Mr. Finkelhor at the University of New Hampshire. “People look at that and say, ‘We’ve got to get these people out of the gene pool,’ but the reality is that most child abuse and neglect, the kind that really causes the greatest amount of damage because it’s the most frequent, is the result of things that are pretty easy to fix – parents without proper parenting skills and parents who don’t have enough social support.”