Last month, Candace Talley, 28, of New Jersey, a former Delaware County Child Services Caseworker, pled guilty to felony sex trafficking and promoting prostitution charges. The Assistant District Attorney responsible for prosecuting Talley asked Pennsylvania Judge John P. Capuzzi, Sr. for a sentence of incarceration. However, Judge Capuzzi instead sentenced Talley to six years of probation for her crimes of sex trafficking and promoting prostitution, both felonies. That sentence is wholly inadequate, given the nature of Talley’s crimes.
While working as a case manager for Children and Youth Services (CYS), Talley recruited the mothers of foster children on her caseload to work for prostitution rings that were engaged in human trafficking in the Philadelphia area. Talley promised to provide those mothers with negative drug tests and positive custody determinations if they worked for the prostitution rings—prostitution rings Talley had a financial interest in. Talley’s network allegedly included 2,000 sex buyers. She received 25% of the rings’ profits in exchange for recruiting and transporting the women. The ringleader, who has not been identified, kept 50% of the money paid to the prostituted women.
A sentence of probation for a government employee who exploited her position to sex traffic and victimize mothers whose children had been placed in her care is a travesty of justice. Pennsylvania sentencing guidelines for Talley’s crimes recommend a sentence of 22-36 months incarceration. At the very minimum, Talley, a convicted sex trafficker, should serve 22 months in state prison. In fact, Talley’s flagrant abuse of power calls for a longer than average sentence rather than a shorter one; Talley could not have trafficked her victims but for her role as a government official giving her access to vulnerable mothers and their children in the foster care system. Talley knew of the mothers’ prior prostitution histories, making them easy targets for re-victimization, only because of her role as a CYS worker. In some ways even worse than trading on her knowledge of their histories, she extorted them with positive drug tests and reports if they agreed to join her sex trafficking operation. When Talley pled guilty to the sex trafficking felony earlier last month, she implicitly acknowledged she used her government influence to coerce disadvantaged women for her own financial gain.
In Pennsylvania, judges can deviate from the sentencing guidelines, if they provide reasoning on the record. Judge Capuzzi stated that the probation sentence adequately made the victims in this case whole because he did not want to re-traumatize them at a public trial. Judge Capuzzi’s rationale is misguidedTalley had already pled guilty to a non-negotiated guilty plea earlier last month, which means she would not be going to trial, and so there was no risk of victim re-traumatization.
Judge Capuzzi had the opportunity at the March 22nd sentencing hearing to impose an appropriate sentence on Talley and so act as an arbiter of justice, an advocate for exploited women, and a watchdog against government employees who abuse their power. He did not take that opportunity. Instead, the probation sentence trivializes the crimes against these victims—vulnerable women who were exploited by Talley’s abuse of power. The probation sentence is the legal equivalent of a finger wagged at a misbehaved child. This probation sentence is consistent with a tendency to undervalue the lives of women of color and highlights discrimination in the legal system against women of color who are victims of sexual offenses. The lack of a guideline sentence represents the cumulative effect of misunderstanding the nature of commercial sexual exploitation, the vulnerability of trafficked persons, and the social stigma women of color face. Judge Capuzzi’s sentence demonstrates a failure to comprehend the serious harms caused by sex trafficking and emphasizes “the legal system’s comparative deafness to [African American Women’s] claims for redress.”
Talley herself drove the victim to “jobs” with sex buyers. Despite that, the harshest part of Talley’s sentence was Judge Capuzzi’s verbal chastisement that her actions taking advantage of women were “hurtful.” That casual and offhand language minimizes the heinous nature of sex trafficking and the exploitation by Talley of her position of power over vulnerable women and children—the very people she was supposed to protect. But is wasn’t only Talley who escaped appropriate punishment for her crimes—none of the 2,000 sex buyers involved in Talley’s network faced prosecution for their role in sexually exploiting the victims. This evidences the system’s mishandling of the crimes of human trafficking, misunderstanding of revictimizing the victims (prostituted persons), and ignorance of the crimes of the real villains—sex buyers and the sellers who profit from trafficking victimized persons
The CSE Institute commends the Delaware County District Attorney’s Office on its efforts to target trafficking in the county, but this case acts as a clear example of how their efforts are undermined when the nature of commercial sexual exploitation, the vulnerability of trafficked persons, and the social stigma women of color face are misunderstood in sentencing. Judge Capuzzi’s decision to sentence Talley to six years of probation was a discretionary choice that demonstrates a breakdown of our justice system and negates the concerted efforts of many local police officers and prosecutors. Even when police officers, victims, and District Attorney’s offices act in accord to promote public safety, as they did here, justice in the legal system can be utterly gutted by sentences like this one. Women are overwhelmingly the victims of sex trafficking. This sentence directly communicates a callous indifference towards the severity of crimes against women, particularly women of color.
 See Elizabeth Kennedy, Victim Race and Rape: A Review of Recent Research 17, https://www.brandeis.edu/projects/fse/slavery/united-states/slav-us-articles/kennedy-full.pdf. In 1976, the Supreme Court held a death penalty sentence for rape violates the Eighth Amendment because it is cruel and unusual punishment. Pre-1976, When the death penalty for rape was still permissible, a Florida study from 1940-1964 showed that 54% of “black defendants convicted of raping white women” received the death penalty, but none of the white offenders who raped black females received the death penalty.
 Id. at 16. A study reviewing 900 forcible sexual assault investigations reported that “blacks who were suspected of assaulting white women received more serious charges, were more likely to have their cases filed as felonies, were more likely to receive prison sentences if convicted, were more likely to be incarcerated in the state penitentiary (as opposed to a jail or minimum-security facility), and received longer sentences on average.” Thus, “racial effects were most pronounced in the areas of sentencing and charge seriousness,” not guilt or innocence. While the author notes that all studies are geographically limited and do not paint a complete picture, she also notes these studies highlight historical racial discrimination and how a victim’s race and gender affect the charging and sentencing of the defendant.
 Id. at 34.