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Louisiana mother faces jail time for her children’s alleged crimes

A district attorney wants to solve crime by breaking up families.

A prosecutor in the incarceration capital of the world is gearing up to send a mother to jail based on crimes she didn’t commit. According to Caddo Parish District Attorney James E. Stewart Sr. in Louisiana, the mother deserves to be locked up for a spate of criminal offenses that were allegedly committed by her two children.

Latonya L. Dillard, a mother of two, was arrested on August 29 in Shreveport and then charged with improper supervision of a minor. The charge stems from a number of offenses that were allegedly committed by her 10-year-old and 12-year-old sons. Authorities say the two boys have committed 12 criminal offenses this year, at least two of which involved breaking curfew and burglarizing a store two nights in a row. Stewart’s office says the sons’ offenses are indicative of neglect by their mother.

If convicted, Dillard could spend 30 days in jail. She may also be forced to pay thousands of dollars for her sons’ alleged behavior.

“As I promised to the citizens of Caddo Parish, it is time for parents who neglect their duty to supervise their children to be held responsible for the criminal activity of their children,” Stewart said in response to the arrest. The district attorney is reportedly collaborating with the Caddo Parish School System and local police to clamp down on truancy and curfew infractions, while holding parents accountable for the actions of their kids. Stewart’s press statement follows a vow made in March, in which he promised to prosecute parents whose kids are caught in public after hours.

Meanwhile, little information has been provided about Dillard, including where she was when her sons broke into the store in question or what disciplinary actions she may have taken following the crimes they allegedly committed. It is hard to know how involved Dillard is in her children’s lives in general. But research on childhood development and juvenile justice paints a picture of what could happen to her sons if she’s convicted.

Taking parents away from their kids is traumatic for children, and often manifests in acting out and rule-breaking —the kind of behavior that Stewart, with the assistance of law enforcement and school administrators, wants to eliminate. Children with an incarcerated parent or guardian experience shame and stress that impedes their physical and mental development. They are also more likely to fall behind in school. By and large, criminal justice experts agree that juvenile justice is supposed to be rehabilitative and reflective of the fact that kids are constantly developing. To prevent young people from committing crimes, it is important to understand the social and economic factors underlying their behavior.

Stewart may want to straighten kids out, but he’s embracing a misguided policy that could do far more harm than good. Prosecuting parents for their children’s actions is just another way of punishing young people in the long run.