Yesterday, I was in juvenile court in Maryland and watched as parents were handcuffed and sent to jail for ten days because their children, as old as fifteen years old, had missed school too many days.
I can understand when a 10 year old or even a 12 year old misses school; at that age you can blame the parent for not getting their kids to school. But when your “child” is 15 and you drop him off at school or you watch them leave for school, or you drop them off at the school bus who is to blame? I just don’t see why the people we elected voted to lock up the parents. What was this supposed to do? How does this help the family and what about the other children who are younger? Who will take care if them?
I agree that some parents have messed up because of their own issues. But what about the single mom who drops the kids off at school on the way to work? What about the immigrant parents who work two jobs each so their children can live in this country and their eldest has decided they don’t want to go to school? The girl who skips school to go hang out with her boyfriend? What are these parents supposed to do?
I saw parents plead guilty to avoid jail because it appears no explanation matters. I saw a trucker who is hardly home but his wife stayed home with their six year old who has AIDS and whose medication makes him vomit. He is too sick to go and when he goes, if he vomits the school calls mom and tells her to pick up the child. Yet, there they were pleading guilty and then the prosecutor said “I can understand BUT…” And then in her arrogance preceded to ask for the parents to do ten days in jail. The judge gave speeches about he has to do his job and he can understand if a child has a serious illness BUT… He has a job to do.
When I first started this work, I had a client who beat his son; his son hit his mother and the father said “I’d rather go to jail now, then have my son go to jail later because I didn’t show him he is not going to disrespect his mother and he is NEVER going to put his hands on a woman.” The judge understood BUT and off he went to jail for 30 days. I’ve often wondered what happened with his son. Did it make a difference? Was the thirty days worth it?
I don’t know what the answer is. But I wonder if on the first day of school if the teacher stood up in front and said “if you miss school your parents are going to jail”. I wonder if after the first absence the child was reminded that his parents were going to jail if he kept missing school. Maybe they wouldn’t care. Maybe it wouldn’t make a difference. But if it weren’t going to make a difference to the teenager then why put the parents in jail? All you did was give a teenager ten days to do something to enter the courthouse through the back with an orange jumpsuit on. Now what? Well, if he committed a crime in Maryland, now his parents,who were in jail because he didn’t go to school, get to pay up to $10,000.00 to the victim because of the crime their child committed.