Crime and Children's Punishment

For great wrongdoing there are great punishments from the gods.

For great wrongdoing there are great punishments from the gods.
- Herodotus, The Histories of Herodotus, Bk. 1,ch.8

If you're going to be six years old at some point in your life (and
most of my readers have probably moved beyond that point) it is
important to (a) carefully select where you choose to live and (b)
behave. This is all brought to mind by a recent mailing from the
Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) describing a lawsuit it has filed on behalf of a 6-year old called J.W.

J.W. attends the Sarah T. Reed Elementary School in New Orleans, is
four feet tall and weighs 60 pounds. He is not unfailingly polite.
Indeed, on two occasions in May he was downright rude. On the first
occasion he talked back to a teacher. Realizing that such activity could
lead to a full-scale insurrection by 6-year olds if permitted to go
unpunished, J.W. was arrested, handcuffed and shackled to a chair.
(Nothing was stuffed in his mouth so he could, in theory at least, have
continued talking back.) J.W. did not learn from this episode. In
less than a week, he was involved in an argument with another 6-year
old over who could sit in a given chair in the lunchroom. J.W. was on
the losing side of that argument and was once again handcuffed and
shackled to a chair.

The effect on J.W. has not been what school officials had hoped.
Being trained educators they had been taught that using those techniques
on six-year olds would not only help the 6-year olds see the errors of
their ways but would eliminate the need for water boarding or other
forms of discipline when the children were older. They were wrong. His
parents say that he is now afraid of school, the police and teachers and
is completely withdrawn. School officials explained that the arrest
and restraints imposed were required under school rules. The educators
may have help in changing the rules. The Southern Poverty Law Center,
has filed a class action lawsuit alleging that the school principal and
other officials had "provided a clear directive to all employees. . .
that students were to be arrested and handcuffed if they failed to
comply with school rules." There's no way of knowing how that suit will
turn out but thanks to the behavior of a student and school officials
in a school in Dade County, Florida, we may have a clue.

Isiah Allen got in trouble on October 20,2004. Isiah was
six years old, three feet five inches tall and weighed fifty-three
pounds. He allegedly behaved disruptively in class and was taken to the
principal's office for misbehaving. Instead of standing contritely he
had a tantrum and consequently was locked in the principal's office.
While alone he smashed a picture frame. Upon hearing the glass break
the adults re-entered the room and found Isiah standing motionless in a
corner holding a piece of broken glass. When the police arrived he was
still standing there. Unresponsive to the police officer's
ministrations it was finally decided the best way to handle the
situation was to taser Isiah. He was, according to the complaint that
was filed in the court case, tasered with 50,000 volts and handcuffed
while vomiting. The taserers were sued and in due course the case got
to the Eleventh Circuit Court of Appeals that concluded
that if the alleged facts were proved "the unlawfulness of the conduct
was readily apparent to an official in the shoes of these officers."
(There is no report of what happened when the case went back to the
trial court.) Our final example of how tough it is to be a six-year old
is again brought to us courtesy of Florida. The child in this case,
Haley Shalansky, was neither tasered nor shackled.

Haley was a 6-years old student at Parkway Elementary in Port St.
Lucie, Florida weighing only 37 pounds. According to the sheriff's
officer Haley was asked to do something by her teacher, became upset and
stormed out of the classroom. Her behavior was a ticket to the
principal's office where she had a tantrum and, according to the
sheriff's incident report: "kicked the wall, went over to the desk and
threw the calculator, electric pencil sharpener, telephone, container of
writing utensils and other objects across the desk." She was
handcuffed and taken away in a police car.

The next day she again had a tantrum in class but this time was
taken away and committed to a mental health facility. The school says
the parents have missed many scheduled meetings to discuss Haley's
behavioral problems. The lesson for the parents is obvious. If you
miss enough meetings with school officials when summoned, your child may
end up in a mental health facility.

Describing its reason for getting involved in J.W.'s case SPLC
explains that: "All across the nation, schools have adopted draconian
'zero-tolerance policies that treat children like criminals and turn
schools into prison-like environments." Based on the foregoing, it is
hard to argue with that conclusion.

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