Mary Mitchell: Jackson and his wife got what they deserved
By MARY MITCHELL August 14, 2013 7:18PM
Former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi Jackson, leave the federal courthouse Wednesday after being sentenced to prison. | Mark Wilson~Getty Images
Updated: September 17, 2013 8:05AM
In the end, former Congressman Jesse Jackson Jr. and his wife, Sandi Jackson, got what they deserved.
The prison sentences handed down by U.S. District Judge Amy Berman Jackson — 30 months for him and 12 months for her — was a humiliating comeuppance for a couple who were often treated like royalty.
For weeks, Jackson foes have speculated that the court would go light on the couple because of their political pedigree.
But Judge Jackson (no relation) imposed a sentence that fits the crime.
Jesse Jackson Jr. will have to go behind the wall for 2½ years. When he gets out, his wife will serve 12 months.
Unlike most of the Illinois politicians who have been swept into jail on corruption charges, Jackson’s financial scheme directly involved his wife.
Jackson pleaded guilty to stealing $750,000 from his campaign fund while his wife admitted to filing false tax returns by under-reporting the couple’s income.
Besides paying for celebrity memorabilia, a Rolex watch and elk heads, some of that pilfered money went for fur coats, salons and spa treatments.
Even though Jackson had pleaded that he alone be held accountable for the theft, the judge saw otherwise.
“You and Sandra used campaign money to support a way of life you could not afford,” she said, chastising the couple.
But it was Sandi Jackson’s use of the couple’s 13- and 9-year-old children to make the case that she should get probation that was repugnant.
“My heart breaks every day with the pain this has caused my babies,” she told the judge, weeping.
“I ask to be a parent, provider and support system that my babies will require in the difficult months ahead.”
“It is not the court that put your children in this position,” Judge Jackson said before handing down a sentence that Mrs. Jackson spends one full year behind bars.
“It is not the government that put your children in this position. These children have two parents,” the judge added.
Had Sandi Jackson been sentenced to 12 months and a day, she could have been out of prison in 10 months. The judge’s sentence of exactly 12 months signaled that she wasn’t moved by the former alderman’s pleas.
Actually, the judge cut the couple a lot of slack by allowing Sandi Jackson to remain free until her husband completes his prison time.
Unlike many of the women in her predicament, Mrs. Jackson will not have to depend on family members to care for her children.
According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics Special Report “Parents in Prison and Their Minor Children,” between 1991 and 2007 approximately 65,600 mothers were incarcerated.
That number represented a 122 percent increase.
In a lot of instances, the minor children went to foster care because no one was willing or able to care for them. And if the mother served a lengthy prison sentence, her parental rights were terminated and the children put up for adoption.
Frankly, Sandi Jackson might be a sophisticated, highly educated professional, but today she’s in the same boat with the low-income, uneducated women who were locked up for nonviolent drug offenses. But Jackson is better off than most of the incarcerated mothers because she has a spouse.
The most tragic aspect of the Jackson scandal is how thoroughly this couple managed to squander their political and family heritage.
Yet, the most emotional appeals made in the courtroom were about the couple’s own children.
“They’ve gone through an extraordinary, traumatic experience with both parents being charged with crimes,” Dan Webb told the judge.
“They need Sandi Jackson’s love, her support, her nurturing. To take the mother away . . . would be an unbearable burden on these two children,” he said.
After the sentencing, the disgraced congressman told reporters he had “manned up” and tried to take “responsibility” for his errors.
“I still believe in the power of forgiveness, I believe in the power of redemption,” he said.
His wife did not make a statement.
Obviously, there are some rough days ahead for the Jackson family, but redemption is indeed possible.
For starters, Sandi Jackson could use some of her time to volunteer with an organization that serves the children of incarcerated mothers.
That’s one way for this couple to find their way home.