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Mom and Pop Cop

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Nobody wants to (or can) police his or her child. From the moment they’re born children discover how to manipulate the world around them. The first thing a human discovers is that crying often results in having one’s belly filled. As children get older they (hopefully) learn more sophisticated means to get what they want. From a very young age they determine which parent is good for which needs. They also learn what information to hide to avoid unwanted repercussions. It is a very useful and normal developmental process. However it takes a crafty and confident parent to oversee such goings on. Children should be allowed their privacy and some secrets. It is only when there are signs of harm to self or others that all bets are off.

Hiding dangerous behavior is normal but not acceptable. Kids wrestling with eating disorders will go to great lengths to hide the effects and the behavior. Rarely will a kid come home and announce; “Guess what new drug I tried today?!” The same is true for proclamations of; “I totally humiliated a kid in gym today!” No, as we discussed above, kids are pretty savvy in getting what they want. And what most of them want is to not get in trouble. There’s no kid in the world (save a diagnosed sociopath) who does not know that being mean is bad. But kids are human and adults in training and as such are very susceptible to temptation. That is why they will drink (at all or too much), engage in dangerous stunts, sniff household products, develop food issues, etc. The world can feel out of control and very big to a child. Engaging in myopic behaviors is a way to gain control and shrink one’s world. Bullying is one harmful way to do just that. Bullying, unlike other alarming behaviors is not about self-harm. Bullying is a means of controlling one’s world. The bully lords over a created contained reality. There are leaders, followers and victims; and the players often change roles with lightning speed. There is no way that all parents can know what their children are doing at all times. Even parents glued to the side of their child cannot know what is going on inside their little heart and soul. No teacher or school administrator can know what is going on with every child at every moment. The first step is simply to accept this.

However once an adult does know what is going on it is the adult’s problem. Quite simply preventing a child from harming him or herself or others is one of the reasons parents (or guardians) were invented. By now we’ve all heard stories of parents of bullies or bullied who knew what was happening and did not take draconian measures. No doubt they intervened in some manner, but they did not stop it. The most glaring examples are those that involve cyber bullying. To not confiscate devices and disable accounts is tantamount to doing nothing. A Florida sheriff agrees, in theory, with this premise. Sheriff Judd did a little arresting. He grew so outraged that the parents of two bullies did not confiscate devices but instead insisted that their children’s accounts had been hacked, that he arrested them; the children that is. And that’s where Sheriff Judd and I would disagree. I’m not sure anyone in this very tragic case (the bullied killed herself) should be arrested. But if anyone should be legally held accountable it should be the adults who knew of the behavior and tried to cover it up. It’s a bit blithe to declare that “kids will be kids,” but there is some serious truth to that adage. It is not an excuse it is an explanation. Children do really stupid things, it’s how they learn and grow. It is also why they are assigned adults.

There is something terribly chilling about the long arm of the law stepping in for lax parenting. Maybe there is an explanation as to why these girls were allowed to be typing vitriolic Facebook posts taking credit for their (7th grade) classmate’s suicide. It’s difficult to imagine what it would be but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t exist. The sheriff was not interested in any explanation (understandably.) His primary concern was the of the children’s lack of remorse and their potential ability to continue victimizing. He rushed into arresting the (12 and 14 year-old) girls before completing the investigation. It is a very unfortunate means to an end. What these kids need is some empathy training based counseling and aggressive parenting. Neither of which is going to happen while locked up. Couldn’t a more sophisticated penal system order the parents to confiscate all devices and accounts and attend parenting classes? A judge could threaten parents with incarceration if they did not comply. Arresting children is rarely a solution for anything. They’ve been charged with stalking which would suggest that the parents of bullied children everywhere should/could be filing restraining orders and accusing bullies of stalking. I don’t know if anyone wants that to happen, but it’s good to have options. There is a mighty fine line to not cross when it comes to blaming parents for their children’s behavior. But there are also very clear-cut cases of parents being complicit in their children’s wrongdoing. We are sophisticated enough to discern between the two. Kids will be kids and hopefully parents will be adults.

 
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Posted by on October 16, 2013 in Childhood, Well-Being

 

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Let The Punishment Fit The Crime*

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When is a person simply too old to pull off a prison jumpsuit? Is an orange onesie, or perhaps a stenciled; “Property Of” best left to the young? When did older age become synonymous with harmless or pitiful? Age does matter of course. It is a biological fact that our reflexes, cognition and general health tend to decline as we age. But how does our responsibly for past acts diminish?

This week both a 94-year old and 89-year old man are facing prison time, and the reports of this fact are tinged with a hint of public shaming. Do decent people really lock up men who look like great-grandpas? (This thought by a culture whose predominate infrastructure for the elderly are nursing homes.) This perspective might make sense if our penal system was designed to prevent further criminal activity, but it’s not. In fact one could argue that a stint in prison is equal to a graduate education in crime. The intent of prison is punishment, and in a perfect world, rehabilitation.

Of course it’s always crucial that the punishment fit the crime. If an elderly person has committed a victimless crime or a crime of compassion, prison probably doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. But if a 94-year old man is (allegedly) an SS commander and has gotten away with his crimes for 60 years? Well, for starters shame on us (and doesn’t it make all this current talk on immigration seem like child’s play?! Seriously! In the late 1940s and 1950s wouldn’t you think that there was some sort of heightened screening/security?!) By all reports this man is quite robust and has been living in Minnesota after not declaring that he was an SS officer upon entering the country. No kidding. That’s the reason given for his unencumbered pursuit of the American Dream: he didn’t say that he was in the SS. (Where are you when we need you Mel Brooks?) In case there are any hair splitters out there; it is alleged that he was a commander. That is, he was issuing orders to kill. I think we can agree that there is no amount of jail time that would be sufficient punishment but surely anything is better than nothing.

Probably the only thing that would make an 89-year old man who abused, neglected and robbed his centenarian mother seem not so bad is a Nazi officer. But that’s not fair; no one can really compete at that level. The 89-year old spent years fleecing and orchestrating his mother’s neglect. His resources and the legal system itself have delayed his punishment. What’s most relevant in his story is that he committed his crimes at great-granddaddy age. He was way past the discount movie ticket age when he embarked on his mustache-twisting plan.

So why is it exactly that we are supposed to be overcome with compassion for a man who committed some of the worst atrocities of our time and got away with it for 60+ years, and a man who committed his wretched crimes in old age? Which is it we’re to be rewarding exactly? Is it laudable to get away with something (let alone doing so for 6 decades)? Or is it that we’re impressed that anyone past retirement age can perpetuate a complex and brutal crime? There are a lot of people in prison who are not physically or mentally up to the challenges. If we really believe that prison is only for the strong and vital we have a lot of rethinking to do. If instead we believe that after a fair trial criminals should serve time, than that is what they should do.

*The Mikado – (1885) Gilbert & Sullivan

 
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Posted by on June 17, 2013 in Childhood

 

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