2011 August 30 Tuesday
On The Criminalization Of Bad Childhood Behavior

What caused plain wisdom about human nature to get so mauled in the last 100 years or so? Did it start with Freud and his cult? Was the Blank Slate dream of liberals the driving force for unhinging? Or did the national culture become less hard-headed and more emotional due to changing sex roles? Lots of old ideas (like be strict with kids) got rejected as oppressive and then re-embraced in kooky ways. A Washington Post piece on how states have gotten carried away with criminalizing juvenile behavior starts out with an example where a 4th grader in Texas who got into a scuffle on a bus was brought up on charges before a court of law. Would Americans of 75 years ago have thought twice about the idea of charging 10 or 11 year olds as criminals for fighting on the us?

SPRING, TEX. — In a small courtroom north of Houston, a fourth-grader walked up to the bench with his mother. Too short to see the judge, he stood on a stool. He was dressed in a polo shirt and dark slacks on a sweltering summer morning.

“Guilty,” the boy’s mother heard him say.

So the kid can't get spanked in school but he can get arrested for fighting with other kids. It is perverse.

We do not even have enough competent people to serve on juries. Therefore incompetent juries reach absurd conclusions (and this brings into question the mythologized idea of a right to trial by jury). We can't afford to criminalize the fighting of 4th graders. The criminal justice system costs too much and has a limited capacity for competent decision-making.

Kids have a lesser capacity to control themselves than adults do. The parts of the brain that regulate behavior develop up thru the age of 25 or so. To treat 10 year olds as criminals for fighting is akin to treating puppies as dangerous for biting. it is just plain stupid unless the kids are attempting to commit murder. Kids should be disciplined using old traditional methods that should be fit to the kids in question. The legal system can't possibly use the level of nuance needed to deal with substantial differences in what works best for controlling kids. The legal system is a flawed blunt instrument, inherently so.

So what's next? My guess is arguments based on disparate impact (that "no tolerance laws" hit blacks and Hispanics hardest) will shift the pendulum back too far in the other direction. Kids that are disruptive or dangerous won't be suspended or expelled. Instead the better-behaved kids will be forced to put up with hyperactive, violent, and generally disruptive kids even more than they do today.

Share |      By Randall Parker at 2011 August 30 07:49 PM  Civilizations Order Maintenance

spindizzy said at August 31, 2011 12:22 AM:

I suspect that the excessive and inappropriate use of the legal system is the result of training too many lawyers.

In the UK, legal study is a popular choice for kids who cannot make the grade in quantitative subjects but still hope to obtain graduate-level employment.

mrm27 said at August 31, 2011 8:28 AM:

if you want to see awful jury behavior and bungling of a trial, google search the Kenneth Green attempted murder trial in Chicago. Man shoots at cops and walks.

AMac said at August 31, 2011 9:52 AM:

> So what's next? My guess is arguments based on disparate impact (that "no tolerance laws" hit blacks and Hispanics hardest) will shift the pendulum back too far...

That's not a guess about the future. It's an observation about the present that comes from reading mainstream media headlines.

jerry said at August 31, 2011 1:27 PM:

Would Americans of 75 years ago have thought twice about the idea of charging 10 or 11 year olds as criminals for fighting on the us?

They wouldn't have charged most men for fighting in the street, or at least they wouldn't have charged them with much (maybe disturbing the peace), unless something serious happened, and that's a far more important subject. They still don't today but only because they don't have enough jail cells, but they retain the threat of throwing the book at you for a simple altercation. And yes, it's political and racial, a part of the social control the elite exercise over the largely white, largely law-abiding public. They've got the real instruments of power wrapped up, just about the only possible threat to them is physical, and in good totalitarian style the way to ensure that never happens is to nip all examples of the sheep straightening their spines and standing up for themselves in the bud. It's another example of anarcho-tyranny: they're unable or unwilling to put much of a damper on black violence (see Black Flash Mob) instead they use that violence to pass zero-tolerance laws that they intend in the first place to apply mainly to whites as a matter of political control. We've just had a delicious example of this mentality in England - when the non-whites came out into the streets to defend their businesses and homes from the rioters they were hailed as wonderful, responsible and caring new additions to the nation; when whites defended their homes it suddenly became a threat and vigilantism. They didn't even bother to blush at their racist hypocrisy because they have no reason to blush, they control all the power, particularly the media.

Zamman said at August 31, 2011 6:48 PM:


It seems to me that if children who get into fights could be labeled as criminals, then now everybody is a potential criminal. So the only conclussion I can come up with is that there's an urgent need to do away with this idiotic system. But FAST! Really fast.

By the way, putting cameras all over America's ass implies that the vast majority of people are conditioned to feel as criminals and to accept that they can be locked up for picking their noses. Who the hell 1% percent or less is on the other side of the screens?!? Do these self-proclaimed asses feel they belong to a higher ethical species than 99% of humans???

Well pardon my French, but fuck them, and the horse they rode under!

The hell with them, but FAST, cause the space around our lives is turning smaller very, very rapidly.

Half Sigma said at September 1, 2011 11:42 AM:

The kids need to be punished for their bad behavior.

Maybe, a hundred years ago, someone at the school such as a teacher, principal, or what we now call a "guidance counselor" would have given them a good spanking. But that's no longer allowed.

not anon or anonymous said at September 1, 2011 12:54 PM:

Agreeing with Half Sigma. Last time I checked, affray and battery were still illegal, and they had been for quite a while. Your solution seems to involve corporal punishment of such kids (which is reasonable persay, and should perhaps be extended to adults) while denying them due process of law. How exactly would this improve matters?

Randall Parker said at September 1, 2011 4:49 PM:

Half Sigma,

You make an excellent point. The recourse to the legal system is due to the removal of power to punish and control from school employees. So the use of the legal system is really a symptom.

REN said at September 1, 2011 7:19 PM:

How would society look if Mom's could choose to stay at home? In other words, if they could easily afford to stay at home, what would be the output? Would children be as obese, would there be lessened social friction, would Mom's volunteer at the PTA? Would parents allow the State to interfere in their affairs, and tell them when they can spank? Would parents have the time and energy to be a watchdog over the State, and prevent abuses?

ASPIRANT said at September 1, 2011 9:18 PM:

They've demonized human nature to the point that a disproportionate reaction like this seems reasonable.

Damn liberals.

Lou Pagnucco said at September 2, 2011 7:54 AM:

Well, as major crimes by elites become more tolerated and legitimated, lots of behaviors of the hoi polloi are being criminalized - and punished with escalating penalties. But, if all laws made sense, would people fear the law enough? Probably not.

Don't trivialize trivial crimes.
Jaywalking is a gateway crime. It leads to littering, loitering, illegal parking, ... and ever more serious offenses.
Every serial killer started as a jaywalker.

A 3rd-grader punished for aspirin possession may have been deterred from life-long drug abuse and addiction.

Mthson said at September 2, 2011 2:20 PM:

Isn't strong social order, backed by strong enforcement, the only way to build a nation that has a large NAM population? And trend discussed in this article does mostly only apply to NAM kids, right?

The African-American community devolved as society shifted away from the ordered 1950s to the modern liberal, do-whatever-you-want parasite society. (Although outcomes certainly improved for the proportionally few middle-class and upper-class African-Americans.)

Wouldn't NAMs experience much better outcomes in a controlled society like Singapore?

Nanonymous said at September 2, 2011 7:05 PM:

Lou Pagnucco wrote: "Every serial killer started as a jaywalker."

LOL. No, it's cucumbers! Remember, 99% of serial killers ate cucumbers before. And 100% of those who eat cucumbers will die.

Lou Pagnucco said at September 3, 2011 10:40 AM:


Good point. Maybe we need a "War on Cucumbers" too?

Both liberals and conservatives would surely join the new moral crusade
- misguided libertarians would try to obstruct it, though.

YIH said at September 4, 2011 7:03 AM:

The link in this post: incompetent juries reach absurd conclusions (links to article on Casey Anthony jury) I'll have to disagree, was that jury incompetent? No the prosecution grossly overreached, they probably could have made a case and gotten a conviction for Manslaughter, Murder 1, no possible way (no Murder 1, no death penalty) simply the evidence just wasn't strong enough for Murder 1. A good example was the ''girl drowned in the pool'' story the defense used in the trial. Do I think that story was bogus? Sure, my point being though there was no way for the Prosecution to prove it was. The evidence could only prove the little girl was dead, HOW she died she was impossible to demonstrate so they couldn't even refute the claim she drowned, nor could they claim (as was rumored) she was drugged (not enough left to do a valid tox screen) they couldn't even claim without a shadow of a doubt that her mouth was taped (as was commonly believed). So IMHO, that the jury was a bunch of imbeciles (while likely true) is also irrelevant. The Prosecution was trying for a grand slam home run when just getting to first base would have been sufficient in scoring a run. By doing so they struck out completely.
Hence the ''lousy'' verdict.

Con1 said at September 5, 2011 3:31 PM:

Randall Parker,

Actually it was the other way around, the use of the legal system was the cause of today's symptom.

Since the sixties and seventies, people started to welcome so much government interference that kids and wives became able to put their tough responsible men in jail for trying to run things in order at home. Only because men used to be temperamental? Now that bottled-up temperament is released the forms of domestic violence we see today, like parents killing wife, children and themselves at home.

Now, because there's so much "Law and Order", tough working men can't compete against the forms of female violence and kiddy challenge. These great men ended up killing themselves, jailed or increasing the ranks of the gay community.

Big Bill said at September 9, 2011 5:56 AM:

The schools are now rated racially on the punishments they hand out. If they suspend or expel a disparate number of NAMs they will be challenged for their institutional racism. Thus there is a growing tendency at the principal level to look the other way when NAMs attack teachers, and to blame the teachers for their "inability to manage the classroom"on the one hand, and to e.g. expel white kids for taking unauthorized aspirin to school or for getting in a scuffle on the bus on the other hand.

An alternative approach is for the schools to use the police as a proxy: rather than expel or suspend a rowdy NAM a principal can call the cops and have the NAM arrested. No suspension, no expulsion.

This racial bean counting goes on at many levels. When the local police were compelled to record the race of everyone they stopped, my white neighbors made it clear that the local police should feel free to stop them to get their statistics more racially equal. It was a bit unnerving in the beginning seeing the flashing lights. Talk to your local police; they may be under a similar court order. It was initially a bit unnerving to see flashing lights in the mirror, but after awhile we appreciated the police contact and got to know the guys at the local station as friends.

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