Don’t Use the Government to Raise Your Kids

A guy called me the other day wanting me to represent his 17-year-old daughter “Shelly” in a theft case. Shelly had stolen some money from her aunt (the guy’s sister). She had been stealing stuff for some time, but had never been charged. After the latest incident the family had made a police report, causing criminal charges (misdemeanor theft) to be filed against the child.

I had defended other members of the family successfully. The guy wanted me to represent the daughter “and get her deferred adjudication probation.”

I explained to him that deferred adjudication would not be a win in such a case; that a trained monkey could get Shelly deferred adjudication; that anything other than a dismissal or acquittal would remain on her criminal record forever, affecting her ability to get jobs, rent apartments, and otherwise function as a productive member of society; and that if hired to represent her I would do everything I could to beat her case, including discrediting the family members who made the police report. I declined to represent her on any other terms, and he declined to hire me on those.

The government will eagerly accept any power we give it; if we ask the government to discipline our children, it will do so with glee. But the government is a blunt instrument with no finesse. It’s utterly incompetent to discipline our children.

Parents’ abdication to the government of their child-rearing responsibilities is abhorrent to me. Every time a parent turns his child over to the police, the government becomes a little more powerful, and a little more confident that it can wield that power against the rest of us. That makes me sick.

0 responses to “Don’t Use the Government to Raise Your Kids”

  1. I work in Juvenile Court now and I’m also sickened by the way relying on “Big Mother” to raise kids leads to terrible results.

    Reminds me of the time my friend called me, ready to have his son turn himself in to the police after his son tearfully admitted to a theft. He called me just to make sure he was doing the right thing and I asked him, “Do you like the way the government administers health care dollars?” (he was a doctor) Then I said, “Well, with that in mind, how fairly do you think they’re going to treat your boy if you just throw him to the wolves?”

    He got the picture quickly, but strangely had never considered that the justice system might treat his son unfairly, despite his past experience with governmentally administered justice. He contacted a local lawyer who worked things out and avoided a conviction.

    I’ve heard it said that bureaucracy and justice are like oil and vinegar: without constant agitation they naturally separate. That’s a good analogy to help dispel the “how can you defend those people” question I get so sick of.

  2. Hi David. While I’ve written a lot about the criminalization of children in general, the care and feeding of kids in the juvenile justice system has become an bigger issue for me lately. So I hope you will answer a question about it.

    What happens to otherwise normal human beings when they work in the juvenile court system to make them so inured and cynical about the fact that they are dealing with children? Do they not consider the fact that these are real, honest to god children, who are being traumatized by the callous treatment of a mindless bureaucracy?

    I can appreciate that you are dealing with kids day after day, but how do a person in juvenile court turn that corner from realizing they are children to treating them like cattle to the slaughter?

  3. Scott-
    Thanks for the question. I don’t have time to give you a good and thorough answer now, but I’ll blog about it and post a comment here when it’s on my blog. I would love to hear your (and Mark’s or anyone else’s) comments on my response, so I’ll let you know when it’s written.

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