Should we press charges against a kid?
July 3, 2008 7:25 PM   Subscribe

Should we press charges against a neighborhood kid?

We just got back from vacation last night, and as we were unpacking, my 13 year old noticed some stuff moved around in his room. Upon further investigation, he found that a bunch of his prized Pokemon cards and toys were gone. At first I was skeptical, but then we checked in the playroom, and the safe I saw him putting his most valuable card in before we left was tossed on the floor, pried open and empty.

Then my husband saw that the cellar door was ajar and that the spray paint cans that we had kept next to the door were gone. That's when we noticed the spray paint on our plants and stone wall. We also found a half eaten apple in the cellar.

We called the police and they took the situation very seriously. When they asked if we had an idea who might have done this, we were unanimous: Justin. This kid has been trouble for 2 years, and seems to have an uncontrollable urge to take stuff from us, especially Pokemon stuff. He's stolen from my kids at least 4 times. In fact, just last month he walked off with something, lied about it when confronted and only confessed when my husband went to talk to him. 2 weeks later he still hadn't brought it back and I had to go get his mom involved...again. All of the neighborhood kids have had stuff stolen from them by Justin and he's usually in a state of banishment from at least one kid's house. We've given him more than his fair share of chances and he's shown no sign of improving. I know he has his share of issues - his dad is in jail and his brother is in foster care - but I've pretty much run out of excuses for him.

So the cops went to talk to him and some of the other kids and hopefully we'll get an update soon. They asked us if we wanted to press charges when the culprit was found and my husband was vehemently in favor. I'm not sure. On the one hand, my kids are freaked out about the situation and I want to punish whoever did this. But on the other, if it was Justin, we're talking about an 11 year old kid. I don't want to screw up his life forever. Well, any more than it already is. Would having to go to court be good for him? Or would it cement his path to juvenile delinquency? I need advice.
posted by Biblio to Human Relations (66 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Not having this behavior addressed is just as likely to screw his life up forever. Press charges.
posted by EatTheWeek at 7:31 PM on July 3, 2008 [15 favorites]

breaking and entering. vandalism. a known pattern of klepto tendencies.

press charges. he needs to know, in the hardest extent allowed, that this is not acceptable behaviour and there are very serious consequences for continuing on this path.
posted by phredgreen at 7:35 PM on July 3, 2008

posted by Senator at 7:36 PM on July 3, 2008

As hard as it is, and as much as some people (perhaps his parents) will try to make you feel like bullies, you have to press charges. To use a cliche: It's for his own good.
posted by Fuzzy Skinner at 7:39 PM on July 3, 2008

Press charges. Thirteen is old enough to know that burglary is wrong. His parents have evidently failed to rein in his bad behavior, so you're well within your rights (legally and ethically) to involve the courts.
posted by Inspector.Gadget at 7:40 PM on July 3, 2008

Letting kids live in a world without consequences -- in which they are not held responsible for any behavior, no matter how bad -- is more likely to screw them up in the long run.
posted by scody at 7:42 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Really depends on where you live. In Texas, for example, kids have been rountinely physically and sexually abused in juvenile prisons:
More than 4,000 young people now being held in Texas juvenile prisons may soon be released because of a system-wide scandal that includes allegations of sexual abuse and corruption among prison officials and guards. They are accused of using their control over the inmates' length of sentence to obtain sex from them.
Of course, you can't have the kid breaking into your house, either. If you have a decent juvenile prison system in your state, press charges. Otherwise, go to the kid's mother, explain that the kid is no longer welcome in your house or around your kid, that you want restitution, and that it's only because the juvenile prison system is so bad in your state that you haven't pressed charges.
posted by orthogonality at 7:44 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Kudos to you for seeing this as a quandary.

Have you researched precisely what he'd be charged with, and what the likely consequences of those charges for your jurisdiction would be? Getting no concrete negative reinforcement for this behaviour will be really bad for this kid, but getting two years in a juvie hall, for instance, would be worse for him - and probably make him more, not less, inclined to crime when he gets out.

Are there possibilities for alternative punishment/community service/victim restitution/whatever options in your judicial system? Maybe something can be negotiated between you, the police, a judge, and the kid's parents.

Any victim's rights groups in your area? From what I hear, most such groups tend to be single-note - "more jail time" - but certainly part of a victim's rights should be the right to have punishment that is actually better for the community, so maybe there are some folks who could give you guidance in finding a way to punish the kid without nuking him from orbit, legally speaking.

I'm pretty much thinking out loud here.
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:45 PM on July 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

And what orthogonality said.
posted by regicide is good for you at 7:46 PM on July 3, 2008

I would press charges, then argue on his behalf for a sentence that is light on the prison and high on community service and therapy. Especially the therapy.
posted by Anonymous at 7:53 PM on July 3, 2008

What are the parents doing during all of this?

In fact, just last month he walked off with something, lied about it when confronted and only confessed when my husband went to talk to him. 2 weeks later he still hadn't brought it back and I had to go get his mom involved...again.

This seems to indicate that you can somehow resolve this situation simply by confronting Justin (perhaps in the presence of a police officer).

However, it seems unlikely that the police are going to be able to prove just who broke into your house, so why even worry about pressing charges? Why not learn how to protect yourselves more, whether it be by installing security cameras or better locks, and preventing the kid from coming onto your property.
posted by KokuRyu at 7:54 PM on July 3, 2008

A neighborhood friend and I did something like this, only worse (causing the neighbor family to actually move away), when we were 10 and 11. I don't know if everybody knew we did it or not, but I've regretted it every day since then and I'm 40 now. I did have some further scrapes with the law over the years, but while I was a bit cocky (too smart and bored for my own good) over the years, I think in the long run it was best that nothing became of it since I don't think I was a bad seed. I'm not saying nothing could be worse than the embarrassment I've felt over this and for my parents, but I do know that my dad wanted to know if I knew who did it and I let him die without knowing. As far as anybody with direct knowledge of the event goes, I'll take this one to my grave.

Anyway, it's up to you, but don't be fooled that the legal system is there to fix anybody. For all any of us knows it could ruin the kid further. I would tend to think that those who say "throw the book at him" or "gotta have consequences" have never done anything like this or been in big trouble before.
posted by rhizome at 7:57 PM on July 3, 2008 [6 favorites]

If it was just a one time thing I'd say let his mom deal with it. However, it seems like he has a history of this. I would press charges. I do not think the legal system will in any way reform him. However, when things escalate with this kid (and they likely will as he gets older) you or anyone that needs it, will have a nice paper trail detailing his history.
posted by GlowWyrm at 8:05 PM on July 3, 2008

In the long run, it doesn't matter. The kid's a criminal and if you don't press charges, someone else will soon and he'll go to jail, or juvie, or whatever your locality does to these kids.

In no way will it be good for the kid to have this experience. It will cement his path to juvenile delinquency. The only way you should feel good about it is if it sates your lust for vengeance.

Personally I woudn't do it. I'd be happy to let someone else ruin this kid's life - I don't need to feel responsible.
posted by ikkyu2 at 8:07 PM on July 3, 2008

I would absolutely press charges. Screwing up his life forever are his own parents who aren't dealing with this.
posted by meerkatty at 8:09 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I would tend to think that those who say "throw the book at him" or "gotta have consequences" have never done anything like this or been in big trouble before.

No, it comes from having seen others have to bear the consequences for kids that weren't held to account at around the same age -- including seeing a girl in my neighborhood get her head split open with a hoe by the neighborhood boy whose own parents wouldn't do anything about his stealing, lying, vandalism, etc., no matter how many times all of our own parents intervened. (I think the authorities might finally have been called after he tortured the neighbor's cat to death with a lawn mower.)

Of course juvie's not there to fix anyone, and yes, this poses a real quandary to the OP. (Maybe taking the parents to small claims court for restitution is the way to go, since they're the ones who are still responsible for him at this point.) But I don't think the OP's own kids should have to learn the lesson that their needs and feelings matter less than those who behave badly. Bullies (of all stripes) get to keep being bullies because most people let them get away with it.
posted by scody at 8:12 PM on July 3, 2008 [13 favorites]

Best answer: I also cannot say whether or not you should press charges. But I have one more suggestion to add to the pile. Have you considered mediation? There are many mediation services that the court or social services could refer you to to work with this child and his family and your own. It shows the child that you care about his well being while at the same time showing him that his actions are inappropriate.
posted by greta simone at 8:13 PM on July 3, 2008

To scody,
You make an excellent point. Well said.
posted by GlowWyrm at 8:17 PM on July 3, 2008

i wouldn't hesitate to press charges.

he's 11, he didn't do anything violent. so i can't see how he would go to jail (even a youth facility) or otherwise be 'screwed for life.'

what he did went beyond illegal and way into the realm of obnoxious- spray painting your house (your plants?) with your own paint?

he needs to learn, the semi-hard way, that his actions have consequences.
posted by tremspeed at 8:20 PM on July 3, 2008

Pressing charges:
-a slap on the wrist (compared to what would occur were he 18)
-an opportunity to get attention (which he wants)
-especially from his mother ("Oh my god, I can't believe this happened, but I love you so much"), who does not pay attention to him ordinarily (thus we've come to this point) reinforcing the idea that acting like a little douchebag is worthwhile

Not pressing charges doesn't fix the problem, either, but that doesn't necessarily mean that charges need to be pressed. Mom sounds like a real winner, marrying someone who would wind up in jail, so I wouldn't expect a lot of constructive discipline to come from home. I think you need to look at this situation as an opportunity to counsel your son in the right direction. Does he really want to hang around a person who would steal things from him? Ilustrate that for him. What actions can he take to be assertive and show this kid he's not someone to victimize? Give your kid the tools and advice to deal with what is the Real World, and let the Real World deal with everybody else's kids.
posted by GooseOnTheLoose at 8:20 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

13, not 11. my bad.
posted by tremspeed at 8:22 PM on July 3, 2008

I think you should. I'm sympathetic to your reluctance, but this is breaking and entering and burglary and vandalism of the inside of your home. That's way beyond typical pain in the ass kid stuff.... he's already a juvenile delinquent, and I don't think you'd do him any favors by teaching him that this behavior is something that people laugh off.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:24 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

Press charges. It shows both Justin and your son that there are real consequences for that type of behavior.

And maybe Justin will get the help he needs.
posted by my_thai at 8:26 PM on July 3, 2008

Best answer: Also, I would consider seeking some counseling for your son. You (rightly) have the adult perspective that this just is a troubled kid... but adults I know whose apartments have been broken into had some real fear and trauma associated with the event, and your child, who had something prized taken from his special box in his own (previously absolutely safe) bedroom might be feeling really frightened and violated.
posted by moxiedoll at 8:34 PM on July 3, 2008 [6 favorites]

Response by poster: I hadn't thought of alternative punishment, but it turns out there's a mediation program at our local courthouse. I think that might be the way to go. I'd really like to see this boy hooked up with a counselor and his parents (Mom and dad are really his aunt and uncle. His bio dad is the one in prison) get some support too. And of course I'd like to see my son get his stuff back. If it doesn't work out, the legal options are all still on the table.

My son is a bit traumatized by this event. He keeps saying "they came in my room!" and I think he is creeped out by the fact that his stuff alone was targeted. He's going to camp in 2 weeks, and hopefully that will take his mind off things, but in the meantime I will consider the therapy angle. My son tends to take things hard and obsess over them and I don't want this to ruin his summer.
posted by Biblio at 8:44 PM on July 3, 2008

I have been a jury foreman three times, and there has always been one holdout, someone who worries that, despite overwhelming evidence of guilt, actually convicting the perp will "ruin his life". The central question has always come down to, "How difficult is it to get through the day without (committing burglary) (raping someone) (burning something down)? Most of us go a whole lifetime without feeling the irresistible urge to do these things. Justin, on the other hand, seems quite comfortable with the idea.

You seem to have arrived at this impasse: Should I continue to volunteer my home as Justin's private little shopping venue, or should Justin experience (quite possibly unpleasant) consequences, which may lead Justin to reconsider his choices?

Let me help you address your dilemma. Almost no one commits a horrific, violent, or unspeakably cruel crime as their first infraction. There is usually a long history of gradual escalation, with the criminal learning at every step that the absence of consequences justifies the risk.

So, imagine the scenario a few years hence when, having been spared any form of punishment, Justin breaks into yet another home. This time there's someone home, a Mom perhaps, with babies sleeping down the hall. These lives become somewhat inconvenient for Justin, and, having learned that "Society with a capital S" considers him not a perp, but a victim, feels justified in eliminating them. You, of course, are sleeping peacefully, miles and ages away, secure in the knowledge that you didn't "ruin someone's life".

You know the answer to this question. Do the right thing.
posted by dinger at 8:47 PM on July 3, 2008 [13 favorites]

He´s broken into your house, stolen one of your child´s more prized possessions, and vandalized your property. What do you want your children to learn about how to react to this sort of behavior -- do you want them to learn that there are consequences for the offender, and that your family can be protected from people who do this? Or do you want them to learn that its OK for someone to act this way if they have their ¨share of issues¨?
posted by yohko at 8:51 PM on July 3, 2008 [4 favorites]

My younger brother has some behavioral issues related to developmental disabilities, and is basically a good kid who sometimes can't control himself, and is thus known to the police. I've always been a fierce advocate for my brother. However...

The last time the police got involved, they essentially told him in a friendly voice, "Come on now, you know better" and left it at that, even though they probably had grounds to arrest him.

I'm grateful that no charges were filed, but somewhat disappointed that they weren't more stern. I'd be scared to death if the police started asking me pointed questions about a crime I knew I'd committed, and would probably pass out in fright in they actually put cuffs on me and sat me in the back of the car.

However, the police have the power to interrogate a person (well, with parents present when a minor), and can also handcuff someone even if they don't intend to arrest them.

What I'm getting at is that if you live in a small town where the police would take the time to do this, and you catch them on a good day, they might be willing to essentially "arrest" him for the crime and have you, at the last minute, "decide" not to press charges if he promises to never do it again.

I had to go get his mom involved...again. All of the neighborhood kids have had stuff stolen

How is the mom? The fact that you've had to repeatedly go after her to get her son to stop committing crimes against you worries me a lot. You mention the family situation which does evoke a lot of sympathy, but there's no amount of sympathy that would excuse having someone break into your house.

Is she someone you could sit down with and basically tell her that you're on the fence about whether to press charges, that you're extremely distraught that this keeps happening and she isn't stopping it, but that you really don't want to ruin his life? In my perfect fantasy world, she'd apologize profusely and then clamp down on her son and you'd never have problems again. I don't know how this would work out in reality, but you'd know better than I would.

A third option—press charges but lobby for a light sentence. I don't know what your power would be in that regard: I wager it's not like a murder trial where you can go and read impact statements prior to sentencing. A few hours of community service. I'm a very bad resource in this regard, as I really have no idea if you can do this, and it will probably vary depending on your community.

An added thing is that none of the past problems are 'on record' so to speak. Pressing charges would start paperwork against him.

All of that said, I'm not sure what I'd do. This is a definite "easier said than done" situation. I think I'd end up feeling horrible if I sent the neighborhood kid off to jail. But it's not like you're senselessly victimizing him.

Oh, one last thing:
he's usually in a state of banishment from at least one kid's house

I think it's time to make that banishment permanent. While I really hope you're teaching your kids about forgiveness, I'm not sure the kid that breaks into your house, steals your stuff, and then spraypaints your wall is a good opportunity for a lesson on forgiveness. It wasn't clear to me from your post, but it almost sounded like this kid was coming over to play. I wouldn't allow that to continue.
posted by fogster at 8:58 PM on July 3, 2008

Tough love, which he isn't getting from his parents. There needs to be some consequences, so I'd start with mediation and take it from there. People are saying juvenile detention is hard, and no doubt it is, but I imagine in a few years if let to continue, prison will be much harder. And god knows what he will have done by then to put him there.
posted by Jubey at 9:00 PM on July 3, 2008

If juvie hall won't fix him, consider this: If Justin has stolen from your family four times, he's probably stolen from half the neighbourhood. Do you want to let this kid run rampant, hurting other people all the time?

If the kid isn't permitted to mix with the public, he can't harm them. We put people in prisons not just to convince them crime is wrong, but also to physically bar the unrepentant from harming others. If this kid spends a week locked up, it's a week he won't be robbing others.
posted by shepd at 9:19 PM on July 3, 2008 [1 favorite]

I'm trying to look at it from the compassionate angle, the "he is seeking attention and by pressing charges, you're giving him what he wants - love and attention from his parents" angle. I'm having a hard time doing that seeing how I just spent the better part of an hour perched in a dark room, peering out of my second story window, basically conducting surveillance on my neighbor's 19 year old and his friends because Mom has left them unattended (again). What's sad, aside from the fact that a 19 year old will only behave when his mommy is home, is that this Junior Detective spying bullshit has become pretty routine activity for my neighbors and I.

You see, they have broken into houses in the last few months, stealing jewelry and other valuables, meanwhile throwing this quiet complex into absolute turmoil, worry and fear. Even when it doesn't happen to you directly, it traumatizes you when it happens to your close neighbors and friends.

When they're not burglarizing, they're loud, obnoxious assholes with louder obnoxious asshole cars in an otherwise quiet considerate neighborhood. They've yet to face consequences because, as the undercover detective who was scoping them out last week said to us "knowing they did it is unfortunately completely different than being able to prove they did it."

Press charges.
posted by jerseygirl at 9:28 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

Also - you live in a neighborhood with someone who's known to break into houses, who, even if you press charges, will probably still live there most of the time. If you are the ones to press charges, he might get vindictive. Now might be the time to install a security system and institute a neighborhood watch.

Maybe if you and your neighbors purchase security systems from the same company at the same time, you can get some kind of group discount.
posted by amtho at 9:52 PM on July 3, 2008

"Evil flourishes when good men do nothing." (British statesman Edmund Burke)

"What is a good man but a bad mans teacher? What is a bad man but a good mans job?" (Lao Tzu)
posted by digital-dragonfly at 10:06 PM on July 3, 2008 [2 favorites]

If someone had put my best childhood friend in juvie long before he knocked over the local bank, maybe he wouldn't be doing hard time for said bank robbery now. Maybe not. Who knows.

In the end, all you can do is take steps to teach your *own* kid that actions have consequences, and that you will endeavor to protect him as far as you possibly can. Ignoring Justin's actions or going to his mom for the nth time to no real avail probably won't impart that lesson.
posted by fairytale of los angeles at 10:24 PM on July 3, 2008

Press charges.

You do this kid, or whoever did it, no long term favor by cutting him any slack on this.
posted by imjustsaying at 11:54 PM on July 3, 2008

Justin is 11 years old and is breaking and entering and burglarizing homes. He's not even cagey about it; he leaves evidence all over the place and doesn't care if he gets caught because nothing bad ever happens. Pretty soon he's going to be bigger, stronger, and bolder and won't be the least bit intimidated by someone's dad confronting him. He'll probably get physical and fight back if he encounters someone at home during one of his shopping expeditions. He won't take Pokemon cards, but jewelry, money and small appliances. Eventually he'll find a gun in someone's bedside table, what fun! Then when someone gets killed everyone will wring their hands and wonder how such a thing could happen. This scenario is not a "maybe," it's a "most likely." Press charges and beef up your household security.
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:06 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

Press charges. As noted, you don't have a good kid who's made a few mistakes. You have a full-fledged klepto on your hands, one who doesn't seem to care about getting caught or any sort of consequences.

You have the honor of showing him some.

I know, you're reluctant, because you're not his parents. His parents should be the ones to show him. But one is showing him by being in prison, and the other is probably enabling the hell out of his antisocial behavior. He's probably desperate for attention, but that's not an excuse. It's a ball that's been thrown in your court -- by him.

He probably will hate you forever. He may never reform. But on the other hand, you are not the ones choosing this course for him. He is, in fact, forcing you.

And you have your own kids to think about. Think about them first. They need to know that you take consequences seriously, as well as their safety. Discuss it with them. Make sure they know why you're finally taking action. And then involve them in securing the house better.
posted by dhartung at 12:56 AM on July 4, 2008

Minimum age to prosecute an offender in Massachusetts is 7 years old, which tells me that the system is equipped to deal with him. He appreas to be unrepentant and his parents aren't doing enough. Yeah, he might get assaulted or abused in corrections. On the other hand, he's probably going to steal from you again. I'm not sure that the possibility of the former would trouble me as much as the possibility of the latter.

IMHO, not only should you pursue charges, but you should look at suing the family for compensation for losses and damages.
posted by ten pounds of inedita at 1:02 AM on July 4, 2008

Please forgive me if I'm misreading what's going on here, but it sounds like your kids aren't old enough for cynicism to set in yet. They've been victimized by this Justin repeatedly and have apparently not seen him face serious consequences for his actions. Even if we live the most corrupt society imaginable (*cough*currentadministration*cough*), I still think it's important for kids to see that sometimes people stand up and try to right what's been wronged. That every once in a while, improbable as it may be, justice is served. That people can't victimize them and they have to just take it. And I think it's really, super important that the person who stands up and does this is their parent. I'm absolutely not trying to judge you on your parenting based on a few sentences you wrote on the internet, but before you make your decision ask yourself if your trying to be a parent to Justin may be hurting the parenting of your own kids.
posted by TungstenChef at 1:09 AM on July 4, 2008 [3 favorites]

"He's stolen from my kids at least 4 times. [...] All of the neighborhood kids have had stuff stolen from them by Justin [...] We've given him more than his fair share of chances and he's shown no sign of improving."

It sounds to me like the remedies which have been applied in the past - like a stern talking to by someone's dad - have not been effective at preventing recidivism. Applying such remedies again and expecting a different result... might lead to disappointment.

Where I am, police have innumerable slaps on the wrist they can deal out, like official warnings and community service. Furthermore, juveniles' crime records are sealed so you don't have to worry about (e.g.) harming his ability to get a job in the future.

Seems to me you have a choice between a punishment proven to be ineffective at preventing recidivism; and a punishment that is not proven to be ineffective. Furthermore, it seems to me that preventing recidivism would be a desirable outcome for Justin, Justin's parents, you, your kids, and the neighbourhood children and families he has stolen from.

I'm firmly in the 'press charges' column.
posted by Mike1024 at 1:30 AM on July 4, 2008

Jeez, the kid's only eleven. In many jurisdictions someone that young cannot be charged with a criminal offense.

It's a simple recognition of children's immaturity and their consequent diminished responsibility. He needs help, clearly, and I'm relieved to read that you've explored alternatives.

Sure there's a need for consequences for antisocial behaviour in children, but pushing them at that age into the criminal justice system seems to me to be the first step in contributing to the peculiar, and failing, American model that has produced the highest incarceration rate in the world.
posted by Neiltupper at 1:46 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

I've got to chime in here as well. I was sorta-friends with a "Justin" when I was a lad, and wow did he ever turn out to be a piece of work. I met him when we were in Grade 4, he had a broken home, his dad was remarried and saw him only infrequently, his brother was about 5 years old, and a total asshole, and his mother was weak and let the boys do pretty much whatever they felt like whenever they felt like it. He started being a small time delinquent in grade 5, petty theft, that sort of thing, then progressed further to vandalism, B&E, assault and more things that grabbed the cops' attention. He did end up in Juvie a few times, and while I have to say I agree that Juvie did him no favors, I think the biggest problem was that he had this roll of doing bad things for several years with nobody ever slapping him down for it. His mother was worse than useless in this regard, and the cops didn't really do anything to him until he was 12 (Young Offenders Act in Canada at the time was pretty much if you were under 12, you had carte blanche to do whatever you wanted short of murder and just get a stern talking to. Might still be that way). He finally went to live with his dad in the middle of Grade 8 and I didn't see him around any more.

The last time I saw him, I was on a field trip in grade 9 down to the law courts, and my buddy "Justin" happened to be at the court of Queens Bench (Canada) getting arraigned on auto theft charges. Stole a car and went to Edmonton for the weekend to see the Mall. That was about a thousand click round trip. Haven't heard from him since. I suspect his life turned out poorly.

Oh, and just one more random datum that sort of parallels your situation. When we went away on vacation for 3 weeks one year, my friend's aforementioned asshole older brother and his friends broke into our house and trashed a bunch of things. Twice. And the year prior, his older brother stole my bike and stashed it in someone's backyard pool for a week. We pressed charges over the house break-ins. Made us feel better. Sadly it didn't make a dent in the brother, as when he was 18-19ish he and his buds made the local paper for causing $150,000 worth of damage (in mid 1980s dollars) to an industrial park office strip. One of them even took a turtle that was one company's pet/mascot and nailed it to the wall with a letter opener. Real bad apples. I hope all of them are still in jail.

That's a bit rambling, but I guess what I am saying is if someone had stepped on my friend hard enough to get his attention back when he was early in his "career" he might have taken a different path. The real shame was he wasn't a stupid kid, just the opposite. He was one of the most intelligent people I've met. In your case if there is an alternative curt program that would get his attention, it's worth trying once. On the other hand, he might just be headed down the road he's headed, you shouldn't be feeling bad for doing what you need to do to try and ensure your family's security. After all, it's not your fault he did what he did.
posted by barc0001 at 2:34 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

OOPS. I missed that on preview. I meant to say his brother was 5 years OLDER. Not 5 years old.
posted by barc0001 at 2:35 AM on July 4, 2008

Late on this one ( as always}, but, I was a "Justin" who came from a similar situation and did horrible acts to get attention from a system that wasn't prepared or coordinated enough to deal with me effectively. I hate to be trite, but all this activity is a "cry for help".

What we have in the US is a complicated social; service network:, schools, criminal justice and private agencies that don't/can't communicate with each other. I'm sure that "Justin" is known to most of them. The answer isn't juvie, the answer is a coordinated diversion program. Your dilemma is do you want to punish this kid, help this kid, or just get your stuff back?

What I might do is check with your local family service agency about what services might be available for Justin and approach Justin and the caregiver/mother with an ultimatum: Here is the help available for Justin, either get him into a treatment/therapy program or you will make sure he is entered into the juvenile justice system by pressing charges.

Right now, as a current victim, you hold a strong hand that can help this sick kid. I guarantee you that this is why he stole the Pokemon cards. He wants help but doesn't know how to ask for it and feels no one rally cares. Please help him, it might not get the cards back but it's the right thing to do.
posted by Xurando at 4:06 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I've worked with a lot of kids in this situation, both before and after they enter the system, and several after they leave it.

One way or the other, his situation needs to change. Period. Whether he enters foster care w/o counseling (bad idea), goes to a juvenile detention camp (probably not recommended), or enters a youth group home for a few months while they decide placement (really the best option), he needs removed from his current situation. We have no idea what happens in his house, or what doesn't happen. I've worked with kids who steal to sell what they get simply so they can eat. I've also worked with kids who were genuine sociopaths.

Regardless, your role in this is absolutely minimal. He can't live with you, it's too close to his mom. You can't fix him, and nobody including him expects you to. IF your state is a good state, they don't need you to press charges to pursue removing the child from his home. All that "pressing charges" does is mean that at some point he'll owe restitution and you'll get to speak at his sentencing...maybe. So then, 7 years down the road when he leaves the system--he doesn't get a fresh break, he has to pay you for what he did as an 11 year old. Sorta shitty.

Would that I were you, I would ask the cops of your DHHR/CPS/whomever social agency has been contacted, and ask who his caseworker and/or judge is. They might not tell you--but they probably will. Contact that person and say that you'd like to have your stuff back but you'd really prefer to play a role in making sure this kid doesn't slip through the cracks and get lost to the world.

Write a letter to his judge/probation officer/family court officer and mention the stealings and the lack of care on his part. Mention that you'll be pursuing counseling for your son who now feels scared and unsafe in his own home, but that you really don't want to see two kids damaged by it all.

I could write all day about it, but I won't. MeFi mail me if you want any more of my opinions...fwiw.
posted by TomMelee at 8:05 AM on July 4, 2008 [4 favorites]

... Anyway, it's up to you, but don't be fooled that the legal system is there to fix anybody...

... Of course juvie's not there to fix anyone ...

Actually, "fixing" kids is exactly what juvenile court is there for. Punishment is a secondary concern in the juvenile justice system; rehabilitation and treatment is primary. Whether it succeed in rehabilitating is another question, but don't say it's not there to fix kids, because it is.

I used to work as a one-day-a-week public defender in a juvenile court system. Here's what is likely to happen to Justin, if he were in the system where I worked: if he has no prior significant contacts with the juvenile court system, he is likely to go on a kind of intensively supervised probation. If he keeps his nose clean for the probationary period, he will have the possibility of not having a juvenile record (depending on your state, the law may allow for a dismissal/expungement of the offense so there is no juvenile record).

Juvenile court systems, like adult justice systems, tend to have a graduated punishment schedule based upon the offender's prior history. For a first offense, with an offender so young, with nobody having been hurt, I'd say the chances are slim that he would be locked up in a detention facility. Where I live, detention facilities are never used unless a kid seriously hurt someone, or is a repeat offender. You may think Justin is bad, but just being a neighborhood cut-up who is constantly in trouble does not count as "bad" in the juvenile justice system. I've seen kids who had thirty prior cases in juvenile court. Those are the kids who are getting locked up.

With first offenders, juvenile court judges usually send them back home with their parents, with a stern warning that "if I ever see you down here again, you will be locked up until you are eighteen years old." That message tends to scare straight all but the worst kids.

I'm with the people who say you should prosecute this. Not only is it doing the right thing for your son, but it's doing the right thing for Justin. This could be just what he needs.
posted by jayder at 8:33 AM on July 4, 2008 [2 favorites]

I'd say press charges, at least there's a hope that some change will happen.
posted by mattholomew at 8:45 AM on July 4, 2008

Rather than throw a kid into the hellhole of abuse, sodomy and on-the-job criminal training that is the juvenile system in most states, I would investigate holding his parents liable for his behaviour. At 13, his actions are still their responsibility and they are clearly failing. It's entirely possible that they are coke or meth-heads, idiots or worse. Certainly getting som attention focused on the home life of the little thief would be a good thing.

Regardless of what the state finds, the kids parents owe you damages and restitution for what their minor child did. Get a lawyer and explore your options.
posted by OlderThanTOS at 9:15 AM on July 4, 2008

Don't press charges on an 11 year old American. It's glaringly apparent the U.S. legal system only creates more problems.

If this were Europe I would say press charges and he would get the rehab he needs.

In the U.S., they don't help criminals- they treat them like animals and it just makes them angrier and more defiant.
posted by Zambrano at 9:23 AM on July 4, 2008

Press charges. He hasn't learned yet, time to try a different tactic.

I'm amazed that you're even worrying about him, after what he's repeatedly done to your kids. Don't you owe them a bit more loyalty?

Think about what they're learning from all this, and how they'll see you as their protector (or not) and what that will do to their trust in you. Be a strong parent.
posted by GardenGal at 9:25 AM on July 4, 2008 [1 favorite]

My mom faced a similar decision when I was a little kid: older kids from the neighborhood continually made themselves at home in our yard and tormented my half-blind grandmother, who lived with us and who was home alone during the day. Asking them to leave didn’t work. Telling them to leave didn’t work. Threatening to call the police didn’t work. Finally, my mother called the police, who rounded up the kids and strongly suggested that my mother press charges. She thought it over and decided not to press charges. She believed that being visited by the police would be a wake-up call to the kids and their parents and that pressing charges was too harsh.

I don’t think that this solution helped anyone. The kids took it to mean that the police were ineffectual. Our situation got worse until the kids were old enough to drive and leave the neighborhood when they wanted to hang out. My grandmother felt powerless, which made her anxious and jumpy when she was alone. The kids also got into trouble in a variety of other places, and the police visited their houses often as they grew older. It’s possible that they would have understood the consequences of their actions before they got into bigger trouble if my mom had pressed charges.
posted by TEA at 9:52 AM on July 4, 2008

This is a hard call. Sadly, whether or not you press charges is just one blip in the f***ed-up life of Justin. There's no way to say or know whether your decision is at all consequential.

If it were me, I would press charges, and monitor the process. I would attend any hearings I was permitted to attend, and keep in touch with both the DA's office and the PD's office. Whenever during the process you're present and Justin's present, be respectful yet very serious and sad.

I've *tried* to press charges against the little felons that have stolen stuff from my house (I'm a foster parent, and one of my foster kids has been known to have friends who steal stuff). In my big urban city, I wait around the police station and file a report, but the police never care or follow up. (Sniff!)
posted by ClaudiaCenter at 10:28 AM on July 4, 2008

I'm gonna comment one more time and then bow out of this conversation because it'll be hard for me to maintain my composure. I just wanted to make a few statements to things said since I posted:

1. intensely supervised probation varies GREATLY from jurisdiction to jurisdiction. In my town it means "see you 4 times a year unless you get arrested again and then we send you to level 3 lockdown while we decide what to do with you." There are some pretty fantastic youth support programs, but quite often they require that a guardian ad litem request the kid be sent through them.

2. I'm amazed that you're even worrying about him, after what he's repeatedly done to your kids. Don't you owe them a bit more loyalty? And so goes the cycle of poverty and prison in America. "Boo hoo me" and "make it someone else's problem" are too much of a common sentiment. The OP does have a strong commitment to her children---that they be fed and clothed and kept warm, and that they learn that there are always people out there who have REAL problems other than some missing playing cards, and that sometimes shitty stuff happens to us and it really pretty much sucks. Not to say that the OP shouldn't make her own children her priority, but she's obviously realized that Justin is a kid with real issues. Whether she chooses to do anything about them is a matter of conscience, money, and time. Would that more Americans made things a matter of conscience.

I realize that my opinions are somewhat harsh and I apologize for that, almost. It's not my problem, it's not the OP's problem, it's all of our problem, because it's systemic and not getting any better.

There are too many perfectly capable little minds who get dropped in the disposal because 1 person who wasn't their parent couldn't be bothered to give them 15 minutes of time. I urge the OP to find out what her options are, and to go about the path I previously recommended.

Teenagers are shits, troubled teens are real shits. That doesn't make them any less human, any less children, and any less needful of supervision, consequences, and--you know, parents. You've got to give them a reason to give a shit, a reason to trust, and a commitment to your word; all those things have to be true to make a change, there's no magical pixie dust and it doesn't happen overnight. Some of the greatest individuals I know today are kids who had it *bad* and were *bad* and came through it as stronger people.
posted by TomMelee at 11:00 AM on July 4, 2008

The pursuit of justice has been an effective check on crime for millenniums because it provides the appropriate negative feedback to the criminals. For a 13 years old, because of his short attention span and underdeveloped associative capability, effective punishment should have been swift and clear; which our current legal system can't provide. Nonetheless, you should press charge, if not for your sake, then for Justin's sake and for the society at large. Please don't shy away from your duty.
posted by curiousZ at 12:04 PM on July 4, 2008

You've gotten some really good advice here. What I have to offer is purely anecdotal, but feel it may help.

Beginning in middle school, two of my close friends started down a different path than I was ready for. They began drinking, which I shied away from, and having parties (one of the friends was my neighbor through the woods, and they'd host the parties there). We lost touch by high school. One night, when I was on the computer, I noticed a blinking red light hovering in the darkness outside the computer room door. Peering hard into the dark, I noticed it was a person with a video camera. Thinking it was my brother messing around, I told him to get the hell away (ah, siblings), but the figure cracked up and ran away.

I followed shortly after to see what my brother was up to, and noticed I was the only one still awake in the house. My brother was asleep on the couch in the other room. This is when I became puzzled. When I entered the kitchen, I notice muddy footprints and pawprints on the linoleum. Still mystified, I went to bed. I thought I heard my brother heading for his room (across the hall from mine), and saw the shadows of feet in the door way, but the receded back down the hall. I opened the door to find his room unoccupied, and him still sleeping downstairs on the couch.

You may have already guess it, but it was my former friends. They were drunk at one of their parties and decided it would be fun to come video tape my family and I sleeping, while also bringing their dog along for the ride.

The only way I finally figured it out was when people started coming up to me in school and saying how funny the video was. Yes, they showed this at their parties.

I was fucking mortified. I wanted the tape gone, I wanted to hide in a hole for the rest of my life. I had to confide in someone. I confided in my parents and begged them not to go to the police. They did, and asked the police to only scare these kids, no serious charges please. The police took it into their own hands and decided it was a crime for the state. Apparently there had been incidents of peeping toms in our neighborhood (I still don't believe it was them, but it was poor timing), and they needed to take the case seriously.

My life only got worse after that. High school is over, and so is that ridiculous nightmare. And as a young man away from all of that, I can see that most of the moves made were completely justified, but at the time it felt like everything was coming down around me. People were angry with me for upsetting these two kids by dragging them into court. I lost almost all semblance of a social life that I had. I never recovered. I still have trust issues to this day.

I'm telling you this because I think it may give you some perspective for your child. You sound like a very level-headed person, but these things can easily spiral out of control- especially in the realms you have little control over or knowledge of. I don't think my parents know how devastating the whole thing was to me at the time.

Good luck, I wish you all the best with this difficult situation.
posted by self at 12:40 PM on July 4, 2008

The kid is stealing from you because it's the only way he gets people to care about him. If you really want to help him, give him the love he doesn't get at home. Of course, you have to be willing to part with more stuff while you work on getting him to trust you since he probably has been let down by everyone he's ever given his trust. This is a major commitment on your part and if you undertake it you better have your husband on board.
posted by any major dude at 12:45 PM on July 4, 2008

Replace your son's Pokémon cards, hire someone to remove the paint from your wall, replace your plants if necessary, and then send Justin's parents the bill (certified mail, return receipt, etc.). If they don't pay it, sue them (this is well below the limit for small claims, yes?).
posted by oaf at 1:06 PM on July 4, 2008

The first order of business is caring for your child. Your son needs to know that you took what happened to him seriously. Press charges, because it tells your son how seriously you regard what happened. Also, don't expect to have this "blow over" while he's a camp. Being away may make this worse, since he'll have to worry about what he's coming home to find.

For Justin, press charges and be his advocate in the legal system. You can ask that he get therapy and community service. Justin is an angry, destructive kid who targets your son. If you ignore his crimes, soon you'll have an angry, destructive young adult - who may still target your kid.

You've tried ignoring the problem and Justin's behavior getting worse. His caregivers are unable or unwilling to control him. It's time to let stronger authorities in on the problem.
posted by 26.2 at 2:26 PM on July 4, 2008

Press charges. NOW is exactly when a child needs to know that doing bad stuff results in Ba Things Happening. Ignore it and he gets away with it. What will he try to get away with next?
posted by gjc at 7:48 PM on July 4, 2008

Absolutely press charges.
posted by gen at 10:19 PM on July 4, 2008

Sounds like a hopelessly screwed up sociopath. The more time he spends locked up away from the rest of us, the better.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:46 AM on July 5, 2008

Sounds like a hopelessly screwed up sociopath. The more time he spends locked up away from the rest of us, the better.

Holy leapin' Jesus, what a foolish opinion.

Look, based on the information given, we can't conclude whether the kid is a "sociopath" and whether he'd be well served by a rehabilitation perspective or a strict removal and punishment approach. It's hard enough to tell when the kid's there in front of you, something that I had to do when I was on the board of my co-op, deciding whether to kick families out of the housing based on the behavior of kids who were ten or eleven. There are things you look for (like contrition, or at least admitting that the kid'd done it), and the attitude of the parents makes a big difference too (what, for example, would the mother change to avoid a situation like this in the future? Is she likely to be able to follow through with that plan?). And the advice of the police in this situation should be given more weight than that of us gang of idiots on AskMe.

From what you've said, there are two things that I'd note. First off, what you should be looking for here is restitution, apology and some sort of apparatus to deter this in the future. How you work that all out requires the imput of both the police and his mother, and you should be aware of your options (regarding mediation, etc.) and be flexible on how you implement them. Second, given what you've said, I think that pressing charges may handle the deterrent and restitution sides of things. You may have to live without the apology. For us at the co-op, that apology (and the subjective sincerity thereof) often decided how we weighted deterrent and restitution options.
posted by klangklangston at 5:33 PM on July 5, 2008

I think I'd prefer to sue the parents--it keeps the kid out of Juvie, which will probaby just screw him up worse, but it will end with the parents feeling real consequences for the crappy job they've done--and you can be sure they'll let their kid know it.
posted by jewzilla at 10:23 PM on July 6, 2008

I don't know where you are, but the California juvenile justice system is horrible- worse than adult prison, usually. It would have to be rape or murder before I'd risk letting a kid go through it, no matter what a bastard he is.

Is there anyone you can talk to you who's familiar with the system to find out what it's like where you are? (If you can do the mediator or small claims route I'd go for that, probably.)

Mom sounds like a real winner, marrying someone who would wind up in jail,

Gooseontheloose, this sentence really bothered me but I'll just say that we don't know enough about the mom to decide she's a loser. Being married to someone in jail doesn't mean you suck.

posted by small_ruminant at 12:23 PM on July 7, 2008

Sounds like a hopelessly screwed up sociopath. The more time he spends locked up away from the rest of us, the better.

Jesus Christ, I hope you're kidding.
posted by small_ruminant at 12:24 PM on July 7, 2008

A friend of mine tried to kill somebody when he was 12 or 13. He got sent to juvie and it turned his life around. He's now successful and had his record expunged so he's not scared of it. He's got his foibles and his sins, but he's NORMAL, you know?

The system that is now in place is not the system of 20 years ago, that's for certain, but juvie got him away from the people he was spending time with and it put him in touch with counselors.

Turn the kid in, let him get the help and the punishment he deserves.
posted by taumeson at 11:54 AM on July 8, 2008

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