Shelby parents using courts to discipline kids

Associated Press • Nov 20, 2012 at 5:50 AM

MEMPHIS — Shelby County Juvenile Court officials say parents are using law enforcement to discipline children, but studies show that even one day in lockup can have a lasting negative impact.

The Annie E. Casey Foundation is working in Memphis and nearly 200 other jurisdictions across the nation to find alternatives to detention for disadvantaged youths. Helping parents find alternatives for discipline problems is one piece of that puzzle.

According to the foundation, a third of last year’s 9,961 minors that were arrested were referred by their parents, foster parents or other relatives.

The Commercial Appeal reports that about 900 of those youths were charged with domestic assault. The next most common charge was disorderly conduct, brought against 665 minors.

“Parents use law enforcement to discipline children,” said Jerry Maness, director of court services. “They want to teach them a lesson, but who do they think is doing the teaching down here?”

Offenses that juveniles are being jailed for include fights between siblings that often cause only minor injuries. In other cases, police are called when children refuse to obey their parents’ directives.

Juvenile Court records for September show a 14-year-old girl was arrested for poking her brother in the face with her finger and throwing her shoe at him. A 17-year-old was hauled to a police precinct by her mother after refusing to obey and cursing. A 15-year-old was arrested after refusing her mother’s orders to get out of bed and leave her friend’s house.

October arrests include teens who pushed their mothers after refusing to do chores or while trying to leave to see their boyfriends.

Meanwhile, Shelby County Juvenile Court officials are facing a federal mandate to reduce the number of youths who are jailed.

Rick Powell, the head of the Juvenile Detention Center, said one option is to expand emergency shelter space to keep teenagers away from their families during a cooling-off period while avoiding exposure to gang members and other bad influences at the jail. But he acknowledged that more ideas are needed.

“As a community, we have a problem,” Powell said. “What can we do to help that mom out without involving the juvenile justice system?”

Recommended for You