Parents Could Now Face Jail Time If Their Kid Is a Bully
by Kristina Wright
Photograph by Twenty20
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
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.
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.