Shaquanda Cotton [to be] released
also at the Chicago Tribune
HOUSTON -- Shaquanda Cotton, the black teenager in the small east Texas town of Paris whose prison sentence of up to 7 years for shoving a teacher's aide sparked nationwide controversy, will be released Saturday morning, prison officials confirmed on Friday.
Her release, ordered by a special conservator appointed to overhaul the state's scandal-ridden juvenile prison system, is the first of what could be hundreds as a panel of civil rights leaders begins reviewing the sentences of every youth incarcerated by the Texas Youth Commission to weed out those being held arbitrarily.
"We have no confidence in the system that was in place," said Jim Hurley, spokesman for the conservator, Jay Kimbrough. "And this case is an example of what we expect to happen if something wrong has been done to youths being held inside that system.
...Cotton, who is 15, had no prior criminal record when she was incarcerated a year ago under an indeterminate sentence that could have lasted until her 21st birthday. Her case rose to national prominence and became the focus of ongoing civil rights protests after a March 12 Tribune story detailed how a 14-year-old white girl convicted of the more serious crime of arson was sentenced to probation by the same judge.
Cotton's case occurred against a backdrop of persistent allegations of racial discrimination inside the Paris public schools—allegations that are the subject of a continuing probe by the U.S. Department of Education to determine whether black students in the district are disciplined more harshly than whites.
"When I learned about this case, I thought, this just looks so bad and smells so bad it made me hurt," said state Rep. Harold Dutton, the influential chairman of the Texas Legislature's juvenile justice committee. "I told [prison officials] I wanted her out of there immediately."
he superintendent of the Ron Jackson State Juvenile Correctional Complex in Brownwood, Texas, where Shaquanda Cotton is being held, called the girl's mother, Creola Cotton, Friday afternoon and told her she could come pick up the youth, Creola Cotton said.
But because it is a five-hour drive from Paris to Brownwood, and the weather in the area on Friday was severe, Creola Cotton said she couldn't reach the prison until Saturday morning.
Later Friday, prison officials, who had not told Shaquanda of her impending release, allowed her to call her mother.
'She nearly fell on the floor'
"She thought they were bringing her to the office to tell her I was not going to be able to visit this weekend like I was planning because of the bad weather, so she was already crying," Creola Cotton said. "I said, 'Oh, I'm still gonna come see you tomorrow. But you're going to be coming home with me.' She nearly fell on the floor."