For many decades, civil liability laws held parents at least partly responsible for damages caused by their children. Also, child welfare law included actions against those who contributed to the delinquency of a minor. By the 1990s, in response to rising juvenile crime rates, communities and states passed stronger laws about parental responsibility. Several states have enacted laws making parents criminally responsible for their children's crimes.
For example, in California, parents can be prosecuted for "gross negligence"—failing to supervise their children adequately. If convicted, they can receive a sentence of up to one year in jail and a $2,500 fine. A Louisiana law allows parents to be fined up to $1,000 and imprisoned for up to six months if found guilty of "improper supervision of a minor" (for example, the child is associating with drug dealers, members of a street gang, or convicted felons).
In 1995 Judge Wayne Creech of Family Court in Columbia, South Carolina, ordered a 15-year-old girl chained to her mother for one month. The girl had a history of shoplifting and truancy. In May of 1996 a Michigan jury convicted the parents of a 16-year-old of a criminal misdemeanor for failing to control his behavior. The teenager had broken the law more than once, and his parents claimed that he intimidated them to prevent their interference. Nonetheless the judge fined them $100 each and ordered them to pay court costs of $1,000. Critics of this type of parental liability state that victims are just looking for someone to blame and that U.S. law usually holds people responsible for crimes only if they actively participate. They believe that if standard rules of American
FIGURE 5.23 Trend in the handling of delinquency cases, 1985–2000
law are practiced, the prosecutor of a case should have to prove that the parents intended to participate in a crime in order to be found guilty.
Many states require that parents pay for costs or program fees related to juvenile courts or corrections. For example, Idaho, Indiana, and New Hampshire passed laws in 1995 making parents pay for the care of their children confined in juvenile facilities. In Alaska, Arizona, Idaho, New Hampshire, North Dakota, and Virginia, parents are responsible for victim restitution. Some states, such as Rhode Island and Texas, require parents to participate with their children in counseling or education programs and at adjudicatory (court) hearings. Based on preliminary findings, involvement of parents in their child's case processing can be effective in deterring repeat offenses.
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