Should parents pay for kids’ crimes? – News Debate
Are your parents guilty of a crime if you are? That’s the law in Oregon. Last month, Oregon became the first state to adopt such a law. And at least 24 other states are considering similar laws.
The Oregon law applies to parents “failing to supervise a child.” It covers misdeeds like breaking a curfew or skipping school. Fines range up to $1,000, with a payment of up to $2,500 to a victim.
The town of Silverton, Oregon set the pattern for the state law. This town had been troubled by an increase in its juvenile crime rate. Early this year, it made parents share guilt with their children. Since then, juvenile crime has gone down 53 percent.
“I don’t think we’re telling people how to parent,” said Chief Randy Lunsford of the Silverton police. “We’re just giving them a tool to become better parents.”
A woman who runs a daycare center in the town said: “Too many times I’ve heard parents say they can’t do anything about their problem child – and this may be a kid who is only 7 years old . . . . I would judge this law a success if it forces parents to get more involved in their children’s lives.”
But some people think that a law like Oregon’s won’t really work. State Representative George Eighmey of Oregon voted against the state law. “Taking a poor, single parent and fining them a thousand dollars is no way to cure the breakdown of the American family,” he said.
“I think it’s unconstitutional,” said a lawyer for several Silverton parents challenging the law in their town. “Between the poles of abuse on the one hand and neglect on the other, parents need to be free to make their own parenting decisions . . .”
What do you think? Should parents pay for their kids’ crimes?
The Oregon parental-responsibility law deals with children’s crimes in a measured way. At the first offense, a parent receives only a warning. With a second offense, a parent must attend a parenting class. Only after a third offense, may a parent be fined. That fine is levied only if a parent cannot show a reasonable effort to supervise a child.
Laws implicating a parent in the crime of a child are not new. “A number of states, California among them, have these old statutes on the books about contributing to the delinquency of minors, in which a parent can be cited for failure to reasonably care for a child,” says Leslie Harris, a professor of family law at the University of Law School in Eugene.
Controlling School Behavior
In Virginia, a new state law threatens substantial fines for the parents of unruly children. Parents of elementary and secondary students must sign and return a copy of the school rules. The parents of a suspended student must meet with school officials to help improve the student’s behavior. Failure to do so can bring a fine of up to $500.
“If parents don’t try, then there are penalties, and I don’t think that’s unfair,” said a state legislator who sponsored the bill. “When you get real parental involvement, it makes a huge difference.”
Some school officials endorsed the law, but not everyone liked it. “It’s taking very desperate measures to straighten out our kids,” said the executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Virginia. “Historically, this kind of effort doesn’t work, and it’s a waste of the state’s time and energy.”
Crackdown on Youth Crime
Behind the tendency to hold parents responsible for youth crimes is concern about the juvenile crime rate. Particularly worrisome is the amount of violent crime committed by the young. Last month, Sen. John Ashcroft was scheduled to introduce in Congress “The Violent and Hard-Core Juvenile Offender Reform Act of 1995.”
People often see parental-responsibility laws as not primarily punitive. At least some lawmakers favoring such laws regard them mainly as a way of getting parents to pay closer attention to the behavior of their children.
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