They sent law enforcers and social workers in to rescue Christine and Jeremy Long's 11 children last summer.
They should have included an anthropologist or two.
The Burke County couple had essentially established a tribe that was cut off from civilization. The children were malnourished, going without food for days at a time. They had all manner of health problems. They'd never been to school and were frightened by others. They had no electricity or running water, and were unfamiliar with the most basic mechanisms of plumbing; they smelled "somewhere between animal and death," according to one foster parent.
Several of the children had to have immediate dental surgery for teeth that hadn't been brushed and had rotted to the core.
The 3-year-old girl asked to go dig a hole in the yard to relieve herself her first morning in foster care. That's just what you did.
The father is serving a three-year prison sentence; the mother received two years in prison on Friday, but is being allowed to serve it on alternate weekends.
Played out to the end, that might consume all of 14 years -- but no one expects that to happen. Fact is, the mother has significant church and community support for her efforts at rehabilitation.
But for creating a sickly Third World all their own, every other weekend in jail seems desperately wanting. Nor would the courts be depriving the children of much of a loved one: The older ones report that the mother was as responsible for their conditions as anyone, and the younger ones could never quite figure out her lack of affection.
Mrs. Long says she is punished every day she wakes up without her children.
It's quite likely the feeling isn't mutual.