Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Young Mother Unfairly Judged Criminally Negligent

The New York Times had an article yesterday, "A Baby Girl's Bath Becomes a Young Couple's Nightmare," about the terribly unfair imprisonment of a young woman of 18 who has been jailed since July 3, the day her 11-month-old daughter was found on her back in the bath.

The mother, Jovanna Shiriver, was looking after her daughter and the 2-year-old sister of her boyfriend; it was the first time she was taking care of more than one child. She left the two children in a little bit of water in the bath while she tended to a pot of rice on the stove that was burning. She says she was gone for about five minutes, nervous for those five minutes.

When the mother went back to the bath, her child was lying in the water. She went to a neighbor (she does not have her own phone) and they tried CPR, and then called the police. In the month since this happened, the baby has been on a ventilator.

This seems like a case where a mother made a tragic mistake. And yet prosecutors are looking at this as a case of "criminal negligence."

Read this quote from the article:

“There are all sorts of shades of gray, and that’s why you can’t have hard and fast rules,” said Ama Dwimoh, chief of the Crimes Against Children Bureau of the Brooklyn district attorney’s office.

“People have to understand that there is a duty owed to children by the very nature of who they are,” Ms. Dwimoh said. “When you look at it from that perspective, you can see what is deemed criminal negligence as opposed to bad parenting.”

So, bad parenting is not prosecuted, but criminal negligence is. But who gets to decide what constitutes "bad parenting?"

I wonder if what tipped this case towards the "criminal negligence" side of the slippery slope was that this mother is a poor, young woman, the very circumstances that probably led her to make this mistake. On the day this accident took place, Ms. Shiriver said in an interview that she felt "overwhelmed." “I was doing everything,” she said. “I was cooking and doing housework.”

Another woman might have had an extra pair of hands, some hired help, a baby-sitter, someone to watch the bath while the other woman attended to the stove. The article mentions that Ms. Shiriver lived in the apartment with her boyfriend, his mother and stepfather, his 14-year-old sister and the 2-year-old; the 2-year-old's mother was in the hospital that day.

Law is not a science; it's applied by humans and so it's messy, and not consistent. This seems a case where it is been applied unfairly. The poor often get the hard end of the stick. This mother is being judged as criminally negligent because the law is being unsympathetic to her; it's easy for the prosecutors to be unsympathetic because the mother is poor and disenfranchised. The very circumstances that led to this awful mistake are what doom her in the hard, unyielding, blind eyes of the law.

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