Should parents be held accountable for their child’s bullying? Officials in the city of North Tonawanda in New York seem to think so.
North Tonawanda is just north of Buffalo and has a population of slightly more than 30,000. This unassuming small community in western New York is making headlines this week for instituting a new law that may be setting a precedent for New York. The law went into effect on October 1 and states that parents of minor children found to be bullying other minors in public places could face fines and jail time.
That's right: If your child is a bully in North Tonawanda, you could possibly go to jail.
The new law is the city’s response to the frustration of parents and police in a dramatic uptick in youth violence earlier this year. According to Captain Karen Smith of the North Tonawanda Police Department, who formerly served as the city’s juvenile aid officer, it’s a small group of middle school students who are the catalyst for the new law.
North Tonawanda officials modeled their law on similar laws that four small towns in Wisconsin have passed in the past few years, allowing for the parents of minors who bully to be charged for their children’s crimes.
According to the this new law, if a child violates any city law twice in a 90-day period, including breaking curfew or bullying, parents can be fined $250 and sentenced to 15 days in jail. Officials and the parents of children who have been bullied are hopeful that holding parents legally accountable for their children’s actions will put an end to the city's bullying epidemic.
Some experts are doubtful of the legality of the law. “I don't think it's a good idea, legally, constitutionally or practically," said Charles P. Ewing, who teaches criminal law at the University at Buffalo Law School. But he also doesn’t think the law will be challenged. "It happens so infrequently, and if you're going to fine somebody a relatively small amount of money, it's easier for them to pay it than to hire a lawyer to challenge it and appeal a conviction,” he says.
City officials aren't backing down from the new law. In fact, the North Tonawanda City Attorney's office and police are considering a proposal to expand the definition of bullying to also include cyberbullying.