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Char-Koosta News, Pablo, Montana, 7 February 1997
Legislators take aim at juvenile crime
If the stats are right, youth crime is on the rise in Montana, and state lawmakers aim to do something about it.
Statistics accumulated by the Montana Board of Crime Control from statewide juvenile probation office reports indicate juvenile crime and arrests have grown steadily in all areas: drug possession, rape, disorderly conduct and murder, to name a few.
The same figures show Montana juveniles committed 1,232 assaults in 1995, a 203 percent increase since 1990, when 406 juveniles were arrested for the same charges. Youths arrested for carrying a concealed weapon jumped from 21 to 148 in the same period, a 605 percent rise.
Republicans and Democrats agree that local communities, schools, churches and families bear the primary responsibility for keeping Montana's children out of trouble. At the same time, the statistics can't be ignored, and lawmakers are trying to improve juvenile justice and rehabilitation programs however they can to quell the growth in youth crime.
Some of the bills being introduced to stop this trend would create harsher penalties for children breaking the law.
Two of them that have passed their respective chambers are directed at keeping children away from weapons. Billings Republican Rep. John Bohlinger's proposal would prohibit the possession of guns, knives or other weapons is any school, and Sen. Chris Christiaens, D-Great Falls, is sponsoring a bill outlawing the possession of any weapon by minors in a youth detention facility.
Other bills attempt to modify children's behavior through public embarrassment.
Sen. Casey Emerson, R-Bozeman, introduced a bill to allow corporal punishment for students acting up in school, but his effort died in committee after testimony from some of the former schoolteacher's students that Emerson had been physically and mentally abusive. Similarly, Sen. Jim Burnett, R-Luther, is sponsoring a bill to allow public spanking as a penalty for vandalism for anyone 12 or older, but the proposal has stalled for lack of support.
House Minority Whip Tim Dowell, D-Kalispell, is trying a different tactic in the battle against youth crime. Dowell suggests that young criminal be punished by a court of their peers, in hopes they would be more afraid of their classmates than they are of the Montana Youth Court systems.
Dealing with spiraling crime rates among Montana children is nothing new for the Legislature. In 1995, lawmakers created a special commission to study the state's juvenile system. The results of that group's research make up the lion's share of bills this session trying to improve juvenile justice in the state. Many aim to revamp the 23-year-old Montana Youth Court Act.
Senate Minority Leader Mike Halligan, D-Missoula, headed the Juvenile Justice and Mental Health Study Commission, which recommended several changes, Halligan said that one of the major trends the commission found was that many delinquent youths had no fear of being arrested, or of the Montana Youth Court, because they knew the would just get a "slap on the wrist" for their first few offenses.
"There are no immediate consequences in the existing Youth Court Act," Halligan said. "We need to give tools to parents, communities, schools and probation officers to deal with the problem kids right now."
Senate Bill 48, the commission's main proposal, would revise the Youth Court Act to speed up the punishment and rehabilitation of juvenile criminals, who would be more likely to face fines, restitution, community service work or time in a detention facility. And each time the child broke the law, the punishment would gradually increase. A first offense might call for 10 hours of community service, while the second could result in 100 hours, Halligan said.
Children need sentences that are "meaningful, self-esteem building, not just punitive," Halligan said. Appropriate community service work, he added, could give youthful offenders a sense of involvement and responsibility in their communities, which in turn need to step in and help at-risk youths.
"More people need to become licensed to be foster parents," Halligan said. "More businesses need to hire kids that may get in more trouble later, and schools need to provide more after-school opportunities. We need to teach these kids how to be part of their community."
For violent and repeat offenders, Senate Bill 48 would provide about 35 new beds at Pine Hills, including 20 reserved for juvenile sex offenders.
Rep. Ernest Bergsagel, R-Malta and chairman of the House Select Committee on Corrections, agreed with Halligan that children need to know they'll be punished if they break the law. He also said one of the major barriers to a better justice system is inadequate communication among different agencies dealing with youths.
For example, Bergsagel said, privacy law sometimes prevent various court, support programs, schools and probation officers from trading information that could help them decide how best to deal with problem youths.
"Judge can't access the Department of Health and Human Services' records to see if a kid is running away because he's abused, or because he's just being a jerk," Bergsagel said. "We have set up a system where people who need to know bout a child can find out what they need, on a need-to-know basis."
Senate Bill 48 would do just that, and if it passes the Senate, it will eventually end up in Bergsagel's committee, along with every other bill concerning juvenile and adult corrections. Bergsagel says his committee is gathering all the juvenile justice bills and will start sifting through them in about two weeks.
"If we don't fix the juvenile justice system, let's just start building more prisons right now for the adult criminals we're going to have down the line," Bergsagel said.
The Boston Globe, 20 February 1997
Bring back flogging
By Jeff Jacoby, Globe Columnist
Boston's Puritan forefathers did not indulge miscreants lightly.
For selling arms and gunpowder to Indians in 1632, Richard Hopkins was sentenced to be "whipt, & branded with a hott iron on one of his cheekes." Joseph Gatchell, convicted of blasphemy in 1684, was ordered "to stand in pillory, have his head and hand put in & have his toung drawne forth out of his mouth, & peirct through with a hott iron." When Hannah Newell pleaded guilty to adultery in 1694, the court ordered "fifteen stripes Severally to be laid on upon her naked back at the Common Whipping post." Her consort, the aptly named Lambert Despair, fared worse: He was sentenced to 25 lashes "and that on the next Thursday Immediately after Lecture he stand upon the Pillory for ... a full hower with Adultery in Capitall letters written upon his brest."
Corporal punishment for criminals did not vanish with the Puritans - Delaware didn't get around to repealing it until 1972 - but for all relevant purposes, it has been out of fashion for at least 150 years. The day is long past when the stocks had an honored place on the Boston Common, or when offenders were publicly flogged. Now we practice a more enlightened, more humane way of disciplining wrongdoers: We lock them up in cages.
Imprisonment has become our penalty of choice for almost every offense in the criminal code. Commit murder; go to prison. Sell cocaine; go to prison. Kite checks; go to prison. It is an all-purpose punishment, suitable - or so it would seem - for crimes violent and nonviolent, motivated by hate or by greed, plotted coldly or committed in a fit of passion. If anything, our preference for incarceration is deepening - behold the slew of mandatory minimum sentences for drug crimes and "three-strikes-you're-out" life terms for recidivists. Some 1.6 million Americans are behind bars today. That represents a 250 percent increase since 1980, and the number is climbing.
We cage criminals at a rate unsurpassed in the free world, yet few of us believe that the criminal justice system is a success. Crime is out of control, despite the deluded happy talk by some politicians about how "safe" cities have become. For most wrongdoers, the odds of being arrested, prosecuted, convicted, and incarcerated are reassuringly long. Fifty-eight percent of all murders do not result in a prison term. Likewise 98 percent of all burglaries.
Many states have gone on prison-building sprees, yet the penal system is choked to bursting. To ease the pressure, nearly all convicted felons are released early - or not locked up at all. "About three of every four convicted criminals," says John DiIulio, a noted Princeton criminologist, "are on the streets without meaningful probation or parole supervision." And while everyone knows that amateur thugs should be deterred before they become career criminals, it is almost unheard-of for judges to send first- or second-time offenders to prison.
Meanwhile, the price of keeping criminals in cages is appalling - a common estimate is $30,000 per inmate per year. (To be sure, the cost to society of turning many inmates loose would be even higher.) For tens of thousands of convicts, prison is a graduate school of criminal studies: They emerge more ruthless and savvy than when they entered. And for many offenders, there is even a certain cachet to doing time - a stint in prison becomes a a sign of manhood, a status symbol.
But there would be no cachet in chaining a criminal to an outdoor post and flogging him. If young punks were horsewhipped in public after their first conviction, fewer of them would harden into lifelong felons. A humiliating and painful paddling can be applied to the rear end of a crook for a lot less than $30,000 - and prove a lot more educational than 10 years' worth of prison meals and lockdowns.
Are we quite certain the Puritans have nothing to teach us about dealing with criminals?
Of course, their crimes are not our crimes: We do not arrest blasphemers or adulterers, and only gun control fanatics would criminalize the sale of weapons to Indians. (They would criminalize the sale of weapons to anybody.) Nor would the ordeal suffered by poor Joseph Gatchell - the tongue "peirct through" with a hot poker - be regarded today as anything less than torture.
But what is the objection to corporal punishment that doesn't maim or mutilate? Instead of a prison term, why not sentence at least some criminals - say, thieves and drunk drivers - to a public whipping?
"Too degrading," some will say. "Too brutal." But where is it written that being whipped is more degrading than being caged? Why is it more brutal to flog a wrongdoer than to throw him in prison - where the risk of being beaten, raped, or murdered is terrifyingly high?
The Globe reported in 1994 that more than 200,000 prison inmates are raped each year, usually to the indifference of the guards. "The horrors experienced by many young inmates, particularly those who ... are convicted of nonviolent offenses," former Supreme Court Justice Harry Blackmun has written, "border on the unimaginable." Are those horrors preferable to the short, sharp shame of corporal punishment?
Perhaps the Puritans were more enlightened than we think, at least on the subject of punishment. Their sanctions were humiliating and painful, but quick and cheap. Maybe we should readopt a few./
Newsday, New York, 24 February 1997
Albany Briefing: A Report on People and Issues in the State's Capital
State Anti-Graffiti Bill Won't Spare the Paddle
2 legislators sell it, again
By Michael Slackman, Albany Bureau Chief
Albany - Two Queens lawmakers are eager to see the end of graffiti artists - with a whack on the rear end, that is.
For the third straight year, Assemb. Anthony Seminerio (D-Richmond Hill) and Sen. Serphin Maltese (R-Middle Village) have proposed that individuals convicted of scrawling graffiti get paddled. Maximum punishment: 10 whacks on the butt.
"This is what these youngsters really need, a little embarrassment," Seminerio said. "You got to put the fear of God into these kids once and for all."
Caning first came to the attention of the New York state lawmakers in 1994, when the nation was transfixed by the case of an American teenager, Michael Fay, who was convicted in Singapore of spray-painting cars. He was sentenced to six strokes with a blood-drawing rattan cane, although it was reduced to four strokes after an appeal from President Bill Clinton.
The nation was split over the punishment. While many said the caning was too severe the case tapped into a public sentiment that was fed up with graffiti-defaced communities.
"I think people are really frustrated," said Tom Long, Queens Conservative Party leader. "I live in Ozone Park. I drive up and down Woodhaven Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue, and everything is defaced. It's not like it's a major crime, but it is a quality-of-life crime."
And so in 1995, Seminerio and Maltese submitted a bill that would allow a Family Court judge to order that anyone from 13 to 18 years old be paddled if convicted of making graffiti. The bill would have permitted a parent or court officer to whack the teen up to 10 times either in the courtroom or the judge's chambers with a paddle. Pants would stay on.
The bill generated a lot of public debate, but went nowhere as civil rights groups decried it as cruel and unusual punishment. But Seminerio and Maltese continue to offer the bill every year. This year, in defense of the measure, the lawmakers said the costs of dealing with graffiti are "astronomical" and estimated that New York City must spend $100 million annually.
Maltese refused to talk about the bill this year. But Seminerio said he is hopeful that eventually, the concept of humiliating graffiti offenders will gain the credibility and support it needs to make it into law. "It's just the liberal element that says, 'Oh my God, what a terrible thing,' " he said. "We are not looking to kill anybody."
Liberal lawmakers and civil rights groups, such as the New York Civil Liberties Union, see the proposal as outrageous and promise to block it from ever making it into law. "We think that paddling is barbaric and government should not be engaged in sanctioning paddling in general and specifically in this instance," said Norman Siegel, executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union.
That attitude, shared by many lawmakers as well, may prove the kiss of death for the paddling bill this year. But rest assured, Seminerio plans to introduce it again next year, and the year after, and on and on.
Copyright 1997, Newsday Inc.
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