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The problem with punishing parents for their kids’ crimes

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TIME, February 2024

On Feb. 6, Jennifer Crumbley was convicted on four counts of involuntary manslaughter, one for each of the Michigan high school students her son murdered in 2021. Prosecutors presented her as a negligent mother, so distracted by her horses and an extramarital affair that she had ignored glaring signs of her teenager’s mental distress. That she had taken him to a shooting range only a few days before he turned his new gun on his classmates didn’t help her case. “Jennifer Crumbley didn’t pull the trigger that day,” declared prosecutor Marc Keast. “But she is responsible for those deaths.” Crumbley’s case is just one of several in recent years that have produced convictions of parents after their children threatened or committed gun violence. Given the prevalence of mass shootings by youths—two of the suspects in the shooting that marred the Kansas City Chiefs Super Bowl parade are juveniles, police have said—police and prosecutors, desperate to prevent further carnage, will be tempted to push for new measures holding parents accountable for their children’s sins. But history shows that such statutes rarely achieve what legislators hope they will. Punishing parents is no deterrent to juvenile crime.

Americans have long tried to hold parents responsible for their children’s misdeeds. Coloradans passed the first “punish the parents” law in 1903, reasoning that parents had an obligation to keep their children out of trouble. “What could be simpler than to make this moral duty of parents a legal responsibility, punishable by fine or imprisonment?” asked Colorado juvenile court judge Ben Lindsey in 1906.

Read more at TIME.

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