Soft sentence: An inmate abuser deserved his own prison time

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Despite being convicted on 27 of 79 charges against him, former prison guard Harry Nicoletti will never have to worry about being abused by a jailer himself. The Coraopolis man, who worked at the State Correctional Institution Pittsburgh, was sentenced last week to five years' probation with the first six months on house arrest.

Not bad for a man who was facing a stretch in prison, possibly in F Block, the same place he committed his crimes. Nicoletti, 61, was found guilty of 12 counts of official oppression, eight counts of simple assault, three counts each of criminal solicitation and indecent exposure and one of terroristic threats. One of the criminal solicitation counts was a felony; the other charges were misdemeanors.

The fact that Nicoletti's victims were convicted pedophiles didn't make his conduct less offensive. His job was to maintain order and be a symbol of the law, not execute his twisted version of vigilante justice.

Although the jury found Nicoletti not guilty on most of the charges, Allegheny County Common Pleas Judge David Cashman should have given him some prison time before the probation. There are 12 victims of the 27 counts that led to the ex-guard's conviction.

Other than losing his job and undergoing the stress of a trial, Nicoletti has suffered no other serious penalty as a result of his crimes. Because his victims happen to be unsympathetic characters, there is no outpouring of sympathy for what he inflicted on them. But at his sentencing hearing Thursday, friends and neighbors went on in describing Harry Nicoletti as loving, kind and generous.

The Post-Gazette's Paula Reed Ward reported that Judge Cashman told Nicoletti, "I'm sparing you from the danger you imposed on the individuals you were in charge of." The judge is right; no one in prison should have to endure what Nicoletti's vicitims did.

But the judge should not have spared him from jail itself. Nicoletti had as little regard for his badge as for the inmates he oversaw. That alone should have earned him time behind bars.



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