Move Over, Traffic Court, Itís Time for a New Money-Making Scheme
School Truancy Laws Jail Parents and Levy Excessive Fines
by John W. Whitehead
by John W. Whitehead: The
U.S. Supreme Court: Architects of the American Police State
We are now
five years out from the worst financial crisis in modern history,
and still the yoke around the neck of the average American seems
to tighten with every new tax, fine, fee and law adopted by our
so-called representatives. Meanwhile, the three branches of government
(Executive, Legislative and Judicial) and the agencies under their
command Defense, Commerce, Education, Homeland Security, Justice,
Treasury, etc. have switched their allegiance to the Corporate
State with its unassailable pursuit of profit at all costs and by
any means possible.
As a result,
we are now ruled by a government consumed with squeezing every last
penny out of the population and seemingly unconcerned if essential
freedoms are trampled in the process. This profits-over-people mindset
has taken various forms in recent years, ranging from the rise of
privatized, for-profit prisons which require the states to keep
their jails full to capacity to the overcriminalization phenomenon
which has subjected Americans to a slew of inane laws that outlaw
such innocuous activities as making and selling unpasteurized goat
cheese, cultivating certain types of orchids, and feeding a whale.
The most recent
ploy to separate taxpayers from their hard-earned dollars and render
them criminals comes in the form of school truancy laws. Disguised
as well-meaning attempts to resolve attendance issues in the schools,
these truancy laws are nothing less than stealth maneuvers aimed
at enriching school districts and court systems alike through excessive
fines and jail sentences, while the ones being singled out for punishment more
often than not from middle- to low-income families are the
very ones who can least afford it.
increasingly popular system of truancy enforcement, instead of giving
students detention or some other in-school punishment for unauthorized
absences, schools are now opting to fine parents and force them
or their kids to serve jail time.
California students are ticketed for missing or being late to school.
One ticket for tardiness can cost a family $250. Tardiness is a
particular problem in Los Angeles, where the citys poor transit
infrastructure and overcrowded buses often leave student passengers
stranded at the bus stops. According to the Los Angeles Bus Riders
Union, 12,000 students received tickets for truancy in Los Angeles
in 2008. Of those students, about 80% received tickets simply for
being late to school.
as it may be for states to levy excessive fines and jail time on
families that, in many cases, are already struggling to make ends
meet and stay together, its the motives behind these programs
that are particularly troubling. Much like the profit incentives
behind privatized prisons and red light traffic cameras, there are
also profit motives driving most of the states that are pushing
for stricter truancy laws and establishing truancy courts for those
parents and students unlucky enough to run afoul of them.
example, the case of Diane Tran, a 17-year-old honor student. She
was sent to jail for 24 hours and forced to pay a $100 fine for
breaking Texas truancy laws, which define truancy as missing
three full or partial days in a four-week period, or 10 days in
six months. Tran, who had been helping support her family
by working two jobs on top of her strenuous schoolwork, was shown
no mercy by the court. Unfortunately, Trans case is standard
operating procedure throughout the United States as more and more
states and localities make truancy enforcement a high priority.
In Texas, where
schools have taken truancy enforcement to extreme lengths in an
effort to qualify for state funds based upon having the highest
attendance rates possible, truancy cases ballooned from 85,000 incidents
to 120,000 between 2005 and 2009. More truancy cases mean increased
profits for truancy courts, which function much like traffic court,
and hefty profits for the state. Dallas courts, for example, pull
in roughly $2 million from prosecuting 35,000 truancy cases per
have gotten so absurd that adults are even being put in detention
facilities for skipping school when they were children. For example,
Francisco de Luna, an 18-year-old who racked up $11,000 in truancy
fines over the course of five years, was sentenced to 132 days in
jail. De Lunas truancy was related to the death of his father
at age 13, at which point his familys finances and his own
mental health faced a steep decline and he ended up dropping out
from parents and activist groups alike, strident truancy laws are
still being proposed and strengthened in cities across the country.
Officials in Washington, DC, are currently debating proposals that
would allow Child and Family Services Agency officials to investigate
cases of truancy for minors up to the age of 17, a significant expansion
of the citys already extant authority to punish parents and
children with fines and jail time.
the threat of zero tolerance policies, tagged and tracked with surveillance
devices, and facing exorbitant fines and jail time in cases of truancy,
Americas youth are now finding themselves in a protracted
battle brought about by those whom they are supposed to trust: teachers,
police officers, and courts of law. Tasked with protecting young
people, these once-trusted figures and institutions are instead
serving the interests of the state, which is less concerned about
educating the next generation, and more concerned with encouraging
obedience and extracting wealth.
All the while,
America continues to find itself ranking the lowest among developed
nations in terms of quality of public education. Despite an array
of standardized tests meant to boost student performance, young
people are not taught higher-level thinking skills, putting them
at a distinct disadvantage upon entering college or the workforce.
Its a dire situation made worse by the profit-over-people,
total-security mindset that has overtaken our governing institutions
and undermined our freedoms.
attorney and author John W. Whitehead [send
him mail] is founder and president of The
Rutherford Institute. He is the author of The
Change Manifesto (Sourcebooks).
© 2013 The Rutherford Institute
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