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Paying for the crimes of their children: The legal and psychological perspectives on support of parental responsibility laws

Eve Michelle Brank, University of Nebraska - Lincoln


A “get tough” on juvenile crime perspective seems to dominate public opinion as school shooting incidents continue to occur across the nation and the media reports young children committing violent crimes. After virtually every incident, questions emerge about the juvenile's parents and what role they played (or should have played) in their child's life. Parental responsibility laws, varying greatly within and among the states, have appeared as one answer to these questions. Although these laws would seem to garner great public support under the new punitive attitude toward juveniles, no recent empirical studies have been conducted to determine if the public believes that parents should be held responsible and punished for their children's crimes. ^ This dissertation organizes the different forms of parental responsibility laws into three separate categories. The first category is the civil liability imposed on parents when their children damage someone's property or inflict personal injury. The second category is the “contributing to the delinquency of a minor” statutes that apply to parents or other adults who encourage a juvenile in some way to break the law. The third category is the most broad because it encompasses the parental responsibility laws that encourage or require the parents to become involved in their child's delinquency case. ^ Through a series of three empirical studies, public support of parental responsibility and punishment were examined. Contrary to expectations, public support was relatively low. Overall, demographic variables along with parental status proved not predictive in determining who would support these measures. Global support was higher than specific support, meaning that those people who read a case description about a juvenile and his parents were less likely than those who answered simple opinion questions to agree that the parents were responsible or should be punished when their children commit crimes. Agreement with punishing the parents was found not to be related to the other punitive judgments of juvenile waiver and the death penalty. ^

Subject Area

Psychology, Social|Sociology, Criminology and Penology

Recommended Citation

Brank, Eve Michelle, "Paying for the crimes of their children: The legal and psychological perspectives on support of parental responsibility laws" (2001). ETD collection for University of Nebraska - Lincoln. AAI3022619.