Jail Time for Detroit Parents Who Miss Conferences?

By Tanya Roth, Esq. on July 08, 2010 | Last updated on March 21, 2019

A prosecutor in Wayne County, Michigan, (which includes the city of Detroit) has a new proposal to get parents to attend at least one parent-teacher conference. The average kid in a Detroit school missed 46 days of school last year, so prosecutor Kym Worthy wants parents to start taking some responsibility -- and she is ready to put them in jail if they don't.

According to a report by the Chicago Tribune, Worthy will take her proposal to county commissioners, then on to the legislature in Lansing. The proposal is for parents to be required to attend one parent-teacher conference a year. If that conference is missed, the school would send out a letter to set up another within 14 days. If the second is missed, parents get a letter about sanctions, which could include up to three days in jail. Parents in poor health or with high-achieving students would be exempt.

Although jail time sounds harsh for a missed parent-teacher conference, authorities are desperate to get parents more involved in kids' schooling and lives. Worthy knows it's a stretch, but something needs to be done. "I have seen that younger and younger children are committing more violent acts and we need to look at different approaches," Worthy told reporters. "I know we need to try something different. We should not have to legislate this, but what we have been doing is not working."

The Tribune reports though, that similar measures in Kentucky and Texas have not succeeded. Then, there are the civil liberties concerns. "A criminal justice solution is not the answer to complicated social problems," said Kary Moss, executive director of Michigan's American Civil Liberties Union.

What it may come down to, is that creating a punishment that takes parents, often the only parent, away from their kids by jailing them would only exacerbate the problem of neglect. Former Detroit special education teacher Emily Williams told the Tribune community service would be a better punishment. "A lot (of homes) are headed by single parents," she said. "If momma is not coming home, who is going to watch the kids?"

But what do you do in a community where parents can't get a grip on their children's lives? The Tribune reports that when Demarco Harris shot and killed a woman, his parents told police they didn't know where their son was during the 2:00 a.m. robbery he was accused of. Demarco Harris was 12 years old at the time.

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