Need a Sitter? Get Convicted!

The XX Factor
What Women Really Think
June 14 2010 10:45 AM

Need a Sitter? Get Convicted!

/blogs/xx_factor/2010/06/14/prison_time_for_mother_of_three_postponed_because_she_has_no_child_care/jcr:content/body/slate_image

A new report says that the past decade has brought an enormous increase in lawsuits against employers for discrimination on the basis of family responsibilities. A quieter, dramatic example of the child-care crisis is a recent postponement of the prison sentence of a mother of three, granted solely because she has no child care.

Advertisement

Janira Bueno was convicted in New York federal court, after a guilty plea to multiple fraud counts in a tax-fraud conspiracy, along with 11 other defendants (including her husband). She’ll serve her two-year prison sentence eventually, but has up to three years or even longer to find suitable care for her three children, the youngest of whom is two.

Judge Harold Baer decided that the "extraordinary circumstances" related to the care of Bueno’s children and the lack of an available caregiver demanded an unusual solution in setting the terms of Bueno’s sentence. In a compassionate opinion filed last week, Judge Baer wrote that he sought to balance the need to sentence Bueno appropriately with "the need to ensure that innocent children are properly cared for and do not become wards of the state, or in foster care." He cited evidence of her devotion to her children and her lack of previous criminal record as factors in his decision. The youngest child will be kindergarten-aged by the time Bueno likely will have to surrender; the oldest of the three will be a teenager. From a child-development perspective, the adjournment of her sentence could, obviously, have (or avoid) dramatic effects on the kids. Self-described " sentencing geeks " find this kind of move interesting because it illustrates the effects of recent Supreme Court decisions that have given sentencing judges more flexibility in abiding by the notorious federal sentencing guidelines. The Bueno decision relies more on logic and on practical considerations than on a technical formula.

Too bad for workers-and for Bueno-that prison terms aren’t as easy to lose as jobs. Federal law forces employers to keep jobs available (sort of, if workers qualify, if and if and if) for a luxurious 12 weeks while you sort out child care and other family-related responsibilities. After that, better catch a windfall or find someone to watch the kids. The data reported by the Center for WorkLife Law clangs the bell: Lawsuits against employers on the basis of "family responsibility discrimination" are up 400 percent in the last 10 years, even while overall employment discrimination lawsuits decreased.

Herein lies the peculiarity of the outcome of the case of Janira Bueno. Meet and right that her kids’ welfare determined the terms of her sentence. But isn’t it weird that the American way of child care (expensive, inaccessible, both, or worse) is so gnarled that a federal judge has to tinker with details when the goal is to make sure a convict serves her time? Prison service shouldn’t be the call to arms that gets us to a reasonable solution for families who want to 1) stay employed and 2) secure care for their children. I guess, with a groan and lots of salt, we’re to ask W.W.S.D . (what would Sweden do)?

Photograph of children by Karim Sahib/Getty Images.

TODAY IN SLATE

Culturebox

The Ebola Story

How our minds build narratives out of disaster.

The Budget Disaster That Completely Sabotaged the WHO’s Response to Ebola

PowerPoint Is the Worst, and Now It’s the Latest Way to Hack Into Your Computer

The Shooting Tragedies That Forged Canada’s Gun Politics

A Highly Unscientific Ranking of Crazy-Old German Beers

Education

Welcome to 13th Grade!

Some high schools are offering a fifth year. That’s a great idea.

Culturebox

The Actual World

“Mount Thoreau” and the naming of things in the wilderness.

Want Kids to Delay Sex? Let Planned Parenthood Teach Them Sex Ed.

Would You Trust Walmart to Provide Your Health Care? (You Should.)

  News & Politics
Politics
Oct. 22 2014 9:42 PM Landslide Landrieu Can the Louisiana Democrat use the powers of incumbency to save herself one more time?
  Business
Continuously Operating
Oct. 22 2014 2:38 PM Crack Open an Old One A highly unscientific evaluation of Germany’s oldest breweries.
  Life
Dear Prudence
Oct. 23 2014 6:00 AM Monster Kids from poorer neighborhoods keep coming to trick-or-treat in mine. Do I have to give them candy?
  Double X
The XX Factor
Oct. 23 2014 8:51 AM The Male-Dominated Culture of Business in Tech Is Not Great for Women
  Slate Plus
Tv Club
Oct. 22 2014 5:27 PM The Slate Walking Dead Podcast A spoiler-filled discussion of Episodes 1 and 2.
  Arts
Brow Beat
Oct. 23 2014 9:00 AM Exclusive Premiere: Key & Peele Imagines the Dark Side of the Make-A-Wish Program
  Technology
Future Tense
Oct. 22 2014 5:33 PM One More Reason Not to Use PowerPoint: It’s The Gateway for a Serious Windows Vulnerability
  Health & Science
Bad Astronomy
Oct. 23 2014 7:30 AM Our Solar System and Galaxy … Seen by an Astronaut
  Sports
Sports Nut
Oct. 20 2014 5:09 PM Keepaway, on Three. Ready—Break! On his record-breaking touchdown pass, Peyton Manning couldn’t even leave the celebration to chance.