Correcting Child Vandalism

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Correcting Child Vandalism

Newspaper article

By: Anna M. Grass

Date: December 30, 1952

Source: Grass, Anna M. "Correcting Child Vandalism." The New York Times, Dec 30, 1952.

About the Author: Anna Grass wrote extensively on issues related to social welfare during the 1950s and 1960s.


Raising children can be one of life's more difficult tasks. Long viewed as simply smaller versions of adults, children are now understood to have their own unique set of motivations and needs, some of which can be quite different from those of adults. Child discipline, and how best to achieve it, is a topic of continuing debate, with some authorities advocating rules-based systems and others favoring relationship-based coaching.

While debates on proper child discipline remain largely the domain of sociologists and family counselors, the question of society's response to misbehaving children often becomes the subject of public policy debate. The criminal justice system's proper treatment of child offenders remains a contentious topic, sparking heated discussion in situations such as when a minor is arrested for murder and faces the possibility of being tried as an adult and potentially executed.

Juvenile delinquency is defined as an offense committed by a minor that would, if committed by an adult, be considered a crime. The United States adopted a system of law for dealing with juvenile offenders in 1899, and the system has been extensively revised and expanded in the years since. The system was originally conceived to provide an alternative to incarcerating juveniles in adult prisons, a situation which often resulted in abuse. It was also hoped that young offenders might be rehabilitated more easily than their older counterparts. As of 2005 the annual cost of incarcerating a youth in the United States was approximately $43,000.

Another aspect of the juvenile criminal justice system deals with restitution, or repayment for crimes committed by children. Because children rarely possess the financial resources to make repayment for their offenses the legal system in some cases demands that parents or guardians be held financially responsible for damage caused by their children. The intent of such laws is two-fold. First, they provide for the repair of destruction caused by the child, restoring what was damaged. Second, the laws function as financial incentive for parents to control their children's behavior, because the parents can expect to pay for a child's criminal misbehavior. Beginning in the mid 1900s states began passing laws to force parental payment for their children's crimes.


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By modern standards, the 1952 New York statute fining parents for their children's vandalism would be considered quite mild. As of 2005, a majority of states make parents liable for vandalism committed by their children, even beyond the penalties assessed in civil court; some states place limits on this liability, while others do not. In a recent Georgia case a child set a fire that destroyed an apartment complex; the child's parents were held financially liable for the entire cost of reconstruction.

Child violence can also cost parents: California law allows the victim of violence by a minor to recover up to $10,000 from the child's parents, who may also be assessed another $10,000 as a reward to the person who turned the child in. In some situations California state officials are empowered to file a lien against the home or other property of a delinquent's parents in order to collect monetary damages.

Other states have devised even more creative solutions. Parents in Louisiana can be jailed for up to thirty days if their child joins a street gang. In Washington State, a pre-teen who stole a $3,000 bicycle must repay the full amount before he becomes an adult; otherwise the act will become part of his credit history, destroying his credit rating. As of 2005, more than a dozen states had passed laws holding parents liable if they fail to adequately supervise a child they know to be delinquent.

Numerous options are available to parents wishing to regain control of a rebellious child, and some states offer financial assistance to parents wishing to seek assistance. Options begin with support groups, counseling, and drug rehabilitation programs, many of which are partially covered by medical insurance. More extreme solutions include boot camps—thirty- to sixty-day programs that teach self-discipline using military-style techniques—and private military schools at which students live for an entire semester. The cost of these expensive options is generally not reimbursed by insurers.

In the year 2000, there were 2.4 million juvenile arrests. While crime rates overall in the United States have fallen in the years since, much of this decline is attributed to falling juvenile populations rather than law enforcement initiatives. In 2005, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that the death penalty, when applied to offenders under the age of eighteen, violates the Constitutional ban on cruel and unusual punishment. Thirty-six states currently apply the death penalty.



Bartollas, Clemens. Juvenile Delinquency. New York: Allyn & Bacon, 2002.

Heilbrun, Kirk, et al., eds. Juvenile Delinquency: Prevention, Assessment, and Intervention. New York: Oxford University Press, 2005.

Lahey, Benjamin, et al., eds. Causes of Conduct Disorder and Juvenile Delinquency. New York: Guilford Press, 2003.


Neuman, Clayton. "The Thin Blue Line at MySpace." Time (June 30, 2006): 18.

Nickoletti, Patrick, and Heather Taussig. "Outcome Expectancies and Risk Behaviors in Maltreated Adolescents." Journal of Research on Adolescence. 16 (2006): 217-228.

Williams, Patricia J. "Felonious Intent." Nation 282 (2006): 9.

Web sites

American Prospect. "I Plead the Sixth." July 30, 2002 〈〉 (accessed June 24, 2006).

Center for Delinquency Prevention. "Preventing Juvenile Delinquency." 〈〉 (accessed June 22, 2006).

Juvenile Justice FYI. "History of America's Juvenile Justice System." 〈〉 (accessed June 24, 2006).

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Correcting Child Vandalism

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