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Strategy: Holding Parents Accountable for Their Children's Behavior

Strategy Parents held accountable for their children's delinquent behavior are more likely to reinforce appropriate behavior in the youth. . . .


Parents held accountable for their children's delinquent behavior are more likely to reinforce appropriate behavior in the youth.

Crime Problem Addressed

Nearly 130,000 juveniles were arrested for major violent crimes in 1992. Teenagers are now more likely to be victims of violent crime than adults over age twenty-five. Over the past fifteen years, use of guns by youthful offenders has increased by nearly 20 percent. Juvenile offenders are responsible for one-third of all reported property crimes. This strategy addresses the youth behaviors that lead to status offenses and property crimes by holding parents legally and financially accountable for their children's actions.

Key Components

Localities across the nation have enacted ordinances in response to growing concern about the incidence of juvenile crime. In thirty-three states, local judges can require parents to pay restitution for crimes committed by their children. City councils have designed late-night curfew, truancy, graffiti, gang enforcement, and gun ordinances that impose penalties and possible arrest for parents whose children repeatedly violate the ordinances' behavior standards. In effect, the ordinances constitute a system of graduated sanctions against the parent and the youth.

Key Partnerships

City officials who design the ordinances and sanctions must work with police and other personnel responsible for enforcing them to determine whether proposed sanctions will be effective deterrents for parents and youth.

Potential Obstacles

Parents and others may oppose passage of the ordinances on the grounds that parents should not be held responsible for their children's behavior when the children are not under their supervision. Also, the sanctions are not likely to be effective among parents who cannot pay the fines.

Signs of Success

Following the recommendation of a coalition of local government and grassroots crime-prevention advocates, the city council in San Antonio, Texas, passed ordinances on juveniles and firearms, a daytime curfew to control truancy, a late-night curfew for juveniles, and graffiti removal. Each ordinance imposes fines on parents and juveniles. The late-night juvenile curfew helped reduce juvenile crime by 5 percent and juvenile victimization by 43 percent during curfew hours. In 1993, incidents of violent crime were 19 percent fewer than in 1991. Repeat violations of each ordinance have become less frequent as parents and youth have seen the penalties imposed.

Applying the Strategy

Silverton, Oregon, has become a model for communities interested in imposing ordinances that hold parents accountable for their children's behavior. In Silverton parents can be fined up to $1,000 if their child is found carrying a gun, smoking cigarettes, or using illegal drugs. Parents who agree to attend parenting classes can avoid the fines. Within the first two months after the law was passed in early 1995, seven parents were fined and many others registered for parenting classes.

Applying the strategy differently, a crime-prevention group in Mobile, Alabama, proposed state legislation making it a felony to store a firearm improperly and unsafely in a location accessible to a child.

From 350 Tested Strategies to Prevent Crime: A Resource for Municipal Agencies and Community Groups

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