Schools

Giving Kids 'Help' At the End of a Gun

Defenders of the status quo push back against a Colorado proposal to decriminalize truancy.

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The duckitarian with the guillotine
Disney

In January I noted that two Colorado legislators, Sen. Chris Holbert and Rep. Rhonda Fields, were preparing to introduce a bill to decriminalize truancy in their state. (The bill is now making its way through the lawmaking process.) Holbert is a conservative Republican and Fields a liberal Democrat, so they don't agree on a lot, but they do share the sensible notion that the possible punishments for skipping school should not include jail. At this time of backlash against over-the-top school-discipline policies, who could disagree with that?

Meet retired judge Dennis Maes, who attacked the proposal in an op-ed for The Pueblo Chieftain:

It appears that Sen. Holbert and others are opposed to placing status offenders in detention. A status offense is conduct which would not be a crime under the law of the jurisdiction in which the offense was committed if committed by an adult. Their belief is that when status offenders are placed in detention with children facing juvenile delinquency charges, they are negatively affected and perhaps even be attracted to criminal activity, themselves.

To my knowledge, there is no proven clinical study that validates such a premise. As a matter of fact, one of the indicators of potential juvenile delinquency is truancy, which supports the need for truancy courts. The vast majority of convicted felons show one thing in common—dropping out of school. There is a philosophical divide among those involved with status offenders concerning the use of detention time….

Sen. Holbert's bill is a giant step backward in addressing school engagement for at-risk students. If the bill passes, it will take years to unravel the damage done.

I should note that Maes also argues that Colorado is not "sending children to detention for failing to go to school" but "sending students to detention for failing to obey a valid court order." The court orders in question, of course, are for the truant kids to return to school.

Anyway. Maes' argument—which has been embraced by the Chieftain's editors—reminds me of the debate last year before Baltimore adopted intrusive new curfews for children and teens. The Baltimore Sun endorsed the measures on the grounds that detaining and identifying these kids was "the first line of defense against allowing them to develop even more serious problems." It's a social-worker-with-a-gun attitude, a worldview that doesn't simply want to offer people help but is willing to threaten them with the bloody awfulness of the American detention system if they reply with a no-thanks.

I find this outlook deeply disturbing, but it has a long history in this country. As I wrote a few years back,

the history of the penal system and the history of welfare are closely intertwined, going back to the invention of the prison and the poorhouse. As the sociologist David Wagner writes in The Poorhouse, a social history of the institution, "two totally different ideas—hospitality and punishment—oddly enough became confused," with the old medieval institution of the almshouse and the newer, more punitive workhouse both falling under the "poorhouse" label in popular discussion. (Workhouses were rare in America, but poorhouses attempted with mixed success to enforce a regimen of labor. One 19th-century New York journalist, quoted in [Michael Katz's book In the Shadow of the Poorhouse], visited a Rhode Island institution where he saw "a party of men carrying wood from one corner of the yard to another and piling it there; when it was all removed it was brought back again and piled in the old place.")

It's telling, at any rate, that one of the centers Wagner studied, the poorhouse in Rockingham County, New Hampshire, evolved directly into both the county nursing home and the county jail. They share the same complex to this day.

As Maes' editorial shows, this worldview continues to thrive. I hope Holbert and Fields can overcome it.

NEXT: Ben Carson: Put the Baltics in NATO! Beware the Sunni-Shia Alliance!

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  1. I remember as a young kid watching one of the Witch Mountain Disney movies and that particular one had a truancy officer that the kids had to avoid. I was aghast at the idea that there was some shithead driving around trying to scoop kids up off the street as if they were criminals just for the “crime” of not being in school. I mean, if public school isn’t prison for children, why is there a prison guard running around looking for escapees?

    1. My last pay check was $9500 working 12 hours a week online. My sisters friend has been averaging 15k for months now and she works about 20 hours a week. I can’t believe how easy it was once I tried it out. This is what I do,

      http://www.work-cash.com

  2. Yup. I don’t regret not having kids.

    1. You’re in your early 30s, right? I’m still surprised that you found a doctor who would do the procedure. I had to prove that I was a dad before I could even get the consult.

      1. I was 27 and single when I got clipped. I had a friend who had it done young and he refered me to his urologist.

        1. I had to bring in birth certificates and an affidavit from my wife.

          My guy is kind of well known, though. I assume that he’s been sued a few times.

          1. My guy was older. Probably practiced in a less sue happy time.

  3. The quickest way to instill a life-long love of learning is to be beaten within an inch of one’s life before being sodomized.

    1. You…you’re alright. *gives affirmative nod*

    2. The beatings will continue until morale improves.

      1. I thought it was until morals improve. I’ve been doing it wrong. No wonder everyone’s so damn immoral… but maybe I’m just using the wrong euphemisms to describe beating my children.

  4. Look, it’s simple, and a lot like mandatory voting. You get to pick your Coke or Pepsi form of detention: school, or juvie. What’s so wrong with that? It’s not like not locking kids up is a reasonable option.

    1. I was just thinking that.

      System isn’t working? Make it mandatory! That’ll fix everything!!!

      1. Compulsory education is like the minimum wage and abortion. Nobody likes to talk about the bigotry used to motivate people into supporting those ideas. The prog Protestants made a deal with the devil to get those damn mick Catholics! Then, 20 years later when the atheists kicked the Protestants out of the Progressive party, the Protestants were left holding the bag. They had started public schools on the path to secularization, which was exactly the opposite of what they wanted.

    2. It’s not coercion or aggression if we give you a choice!

  5. The vast majority of convicted felons show one thing in common?dropping out of school. There is a philosophical divide among those involved with status offenders concerning the use of detention time….

    The vast majority of convicted felons have another thing in common; coming from single parent and/or divorced households. Therefore divorce should be illegal and parents who separate should face a special criminal divorce tribunal and sentenced to no less than 1 year in a rape cage.

    1. Don’t forget that those households tend to be poorer than average. Poverty should be illegal.

    2. If the vast majority of drop outs became convicted felons, then he would have had a convincing argument.

      Instead, the judge displays the full stupidity of the institution.

    3. Therefore divorce should be illegal and parents who separate should face a special criminal divorce tribunal and sentenced to no less than 1 year in a rape cage.

      So, after possibly years of bitter marriage, your suggested punishment is a rape cage?

      I might foresee some unintended consequences.

      1. There’s no such thing as “unintended consequences”. Or at least they don’t factor into the logic used to justify aggression, so they are effectively non-existent.

    4. Correlation, causation…I have a feeling that the distinction would escape the judge.

    5. The vast majority of convicted felons have something else in common: having their lives ruined by being convicted of a non-violent crime.

  6. Kids who jave skipped school have stolen state property. You put theives in jail., don’t you?

  7. Their belief is that when status offenders are placed in detention with children facing juvenile delinquency charges, they are negatively affected and perhaps even be attracted to criminal activity, themselves.

    To my knowledge, there is no proven clinical study that validates such a premise. As a matter of fact, one of the indicators of potential juvenile delinquency is truancy, which supports the need for truancy courts.

    Your anecdotes are unproven! My facts, which don’t preclude your anecdotes and actually kind of support them, prove you wrong!

  8. I’m writing a paper on this for law school! In the paraphrased words of Murray Rothbard, this is all about giving elites the control to stamp out wrongthink. At first the wrongthink was Catholicism, but ever since the SoCons were kicked out of the Progressive movement, wrongthink has encompassed anything that the leftist elites don’t like leaving up to the dirty proles to disseminate… IOW, everything.

  9. I cannot believe that involving The Law when kids skip school is even a thing. In my day the school just sent some flunky to look for you. WTF is wrong with this country?!

    1. The flunkies got a union and became too expensive. Cops are expensive too, but they have nothing better to do.

  10. Don’t forget that the school systems get paid for bums in seats and truants don’t generate revenue. That’s why some schools wanted kids to be tagged and tracked with RFIDs in their mandatory ID badges..

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