U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government, Department of Justice.

NCJRS Virtual Library

The Virtual Library houses over 235,000 criminal justice resources, including all known OJP works.
Click here to search the NCJRS Virtual Library

Creating Problems Rather Than Solving Them: Why Criminal Parental Responsibility Laws Do Not Fit Within Our Understanding of Justice

NCJ Number
Fordham Law Review Volume: 66 Issue: 3 Dated: December 1997 Pages: 1029-1074
T Scarola
Date Published
46 pages
This paper examines the theories of criminal law to assess whether the criminal parental responsibility laws are "fair."
Criminal parental responsibility statutes are based in the belief that lack of parental control and responsibility are a primary cause of delinquency. In an effort to spur parents to exercise greater control and influence over their children, a number of States have passed laws that define parental responsibilities to prevent delinquent behavior and specify sanctions for failing to prevent such behavior. Part I of this paper discusses the various causes of juvenile crime and outlines alternative approaches for addressing it. It then examines various State criminal parental responsibility laws and considers whether these laws have been effective in reducing juvenile crime. The author then turns to a discussion of the criminal theories of justice. Part II explains how the fairness of parental control laws can be evaluated under criminal justice theories by first addressing the justifications for criminal law and then reviewing and critiquing the two main approaches to criminal law: utilitarianism and retributivism. Part III examines criminal parental responsibility laws within those theories and concludes that such laws are unfair because they do not fit within the primary theories that justify criminal laws. Accepting that juvenile crime is a growing problem that needs addressing, Part IV provides a more just and effective solution than criminal parental responsibility laws. The author argues that targeting parents for criminal sanctions in an attempt to reduce juvenile crime is misguided; legislatures should instead focus on addressing the root causes of juvenile crime through prevention programs. The author offers, as an example, the New York State Attorney General's approach to juvenile crime reduction, which focuses on prevention, and urges other States to adopt similar solutions. 422 footnotes