After swinging away from the notion that mass incarceration can cure all social ills, the social pendulum appears to be swinging in favor of prosecuting parents. You do not have to be a parent, as I am, to understand the good intentions behind efforts to...

Don't rush to criminalize bad parenting

After swinging away from the notion that mass incarceration can cure all social ills, the social pendulum appears to be swinging in favor of prosecuting parents. You do not have to be a parent, as I am, to understand the good intentions behind efforts to...

Don't rush to criminalize bad parenting

After swinging away from the notion that mass incarceration can cure all social ills, the social pendulum appears to be swinging in favor of prosecuting parents.

You do not have to be a parent, as I am, to understand the good intentions behind efforts to hold parents accountable for taking great care of their kids. But we also have to ask what type of care is best and whether or not the criminal justice system is normally the greatest decider.

Take, for instance, the case of Debra Harrell, who was jailed and charged lately with "unlawful conduct toward a kid" in North Augusta, S.C., according to news reports. Her crime: leaving her 9-year-old daughter alone to play with a couple of dozen other little ones in a local park though Harrell went to function.

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  • Call me paranoid, but I would not have left my kid unsupervised at that age, no matter how protected the neighborhood may be. But, thinking of how quite a few other parents had been AWOL when I took my son to our neighborhood parks, that query is subject to endless debate.

    Freelance writer Kim Brooks found that to be accurate as she recounts her personal arrest in a Salon article. She left her four-year-old son in the auto alone for a handful of minutes even though she bought a pair of headphones. Though she did not discover that move to be unsafe or uncommon, a "superior Samaritan," as she put it, videotaped her offense.

    "I am glad we live in a globe where individuals are watching out for children," she recalls her lawyer consoling her. "But in your case, what happened wasn't malicious. It wasn't neglectful. It was a temporary lapse in judgment. This is what we require to pressure."

    She at some point agreed to do one hundred hours of neighborhood service and take parenting classes.

    Her case also brought a lot of sympathy from Lenore Skenazy, a former New York Sun columnist who created a national splash with a 2008 column about her selection to let her then-9-year-old son take the subway by himself. The resulting flood of praise and outrage (she embraced the title "World's Worst Mom" for a syndicated Tv series she hosted in 2012) moved her to discovered the Free Range Children movement committed, in her words, to "fighting the belief that our youngsters are in constant danger."

    Letting your little ones roam free helps them find out and develop, Skenazy argues, in contrast to the "bubble-wrap children" raised by us extra-paranoid parents.

    To me that view sounds extra acceptable to the smaller-town world of a half-century ago in which I grew up. Since today's globe is so immersed in horror stories about abducted young children or children dying in locked vehicles, merely leaving youngsters unattended can be grounds for arrest.

    The "criminalization of parenting" is what libertarian-leaning Washington Post blogger Radley Balko calls these instances. Balko deplores the rising use of the criminal justice system to address troubles that utilized to be handled by households, buddies, churches and other neighborhood institutions.

    I suspect that our society's faith in these regular institutions has declined with the increasing, broadly held suspicion that these institutions are below siege and breaking down.

    That fear assists to clarify why Tennessee has taken the intense and, I believe, unsafe step of passing the nation's 1st state law that says a woman who takes drugs when pregnant can be charged with assault.

    Only a few days following the law went into effect on July 1, Monroe County police arrested Mallory Loyola, 26, following both she and her newborn infant tested positive for meth, according to police reports.

    There is no query that the law is nicely-intended. For some drug offenders, arrest could be the final-resort way to get them into the treatment they will need. But new danger to unborn children rises when the emphasis on prosecution deters females with drug and alcohol issues from seeking the prenatal care that they have to have.

    In current years we have noticed a broad spectrum of politicians and activists &mdash from the libertarian right to the progressive left &mdash push for option sentencing that reduces the costly mass incarceration of nonviolent offenders, mainly in government wars on drugs. We also need to appear seriously for options to prosecution that can stay clear of a new war on parents.

    Clarence Page, a member of the Tribune Editorial Board, blogs at chicagotribune.com/pagespage.

    cpage@tribune.com

    Twitter @cptime

    Join in the discussion on the Chicago Tribune Editorial Board&rsquos Facebook page or on Twitter by following @Trib_Ed_Board.

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