Friday, August 18, 2006

School Bus as Punishment

Everybody knows High School kids don't like to ride the bus. Every year I'll have one or two that ride only a few days because their car is broken or the kid that picks them up is out sick. Some years I get a smart parent who won't let their kid drive in the winter months. But I have never had anyone sentenced to ride with me.

From the nwiTimes

Judge: Forget the fine, ride the school bus

PORTAGE | Porter Superior Judge Julia Jent couldn't get through to a rather apathetic teenage girl in her courtroom a few months back.

The girl appeared in Jent's court regarding a moving traffic violation and didn't appear to take the offense, or the possible fine, too seriously.

So Jent, who has teenage grandchildren, came up with a court order specifically for the high school-aged girl: Let your car keys idle for a few weeks, park your attitude and ride the school bus to class each day.

"The girl cried outside my courtroom," said Jent, who immediately realized she was onto something. "I guess I found the right button."

Since then, Jent has sent a memo to every law enforcement agency in her jurisdiction stating that all moving traffic citations involving drivers age 16 to 18 must be seen by her -- instead of having mom and dad pay a fine, or, worse, having teens pay the fine and mom and dad not know what's going on.

If the high school-aged teens were found guilty they were court-ordered to ride the school bus for a specific amount of time. If they violate the order -- Jent has been checking in with schools and bus drivers -- their driver's license will be suspended, and a fine must be paid. If they comply, the matter is dismissed.

"Kid does crime, kid does time, and mom and dad can't get them out of it and don't have to feel guilty for not helping (them)," Jent said.

Each court order is tailored to the offender, the traffic offense and, most importantly, the teen's attitude. Jent also makes a point to tell parents they cannot drive their child to school -- or they could be held in contempt of court.

Of the dozen or so teens who have received court orders so far, one was ordered to nine weeks of school-bus riding, with exceptions for certain after-school activities. Another had total driving restrictions for an entire semester.

"Oh my God, you would have thought I gave her and her mother the death penalty," Jent said.

On Monday, Porter Superior Judge David Chidester was notified by the Indiana Judicial Center in Indianapolis that it's legal to customize such court orders.

"They said it was acceptable under Indiana Code 9-30-3-16," Chidester said.

The little-known state statute allows a judge to place any infraction violator on probationary conditions, including license suspensions.

So Chidester is planning on starting a similar program in his courtroom, and he already has started the process by notifying local police chiefs and school principals.

Jane Seigel, director of the Indiana Judicial Center, said she is unaware of any other Indiana court using this new program, and it would be inappropriate to offer comment on whether parents have the right to appeal the probationary measure.

One possible snag could be a conflict with the county prosecutor's Infraction Deferral Program, which offers such teen drivers a deferral to courts, Chidester said.

Porter County Chief Deputy Prosecutor Brian Gensel was unavailable for comment Monday.

But Jent said all she's trying to do is save the lives of young drivers, or at least teach them responsibility about their actions behind a steering wheel, which typically costs parents court fees, traffic fines and higher insurance premiums.

"This way, I'm the bad guy," Jent said. "But the teens can hate me. It's OK."

So what's the reaction from parents?

Porter Superior Judge Julia Jent said the majority of parents whose teenage drivers have been ordered to ride the school bus have supported the court decision, while others think it's taking parental responsibility and control out of their hands.
One parent has written weekly notes in complaint to the court. Another has quietly thanked Jent for taking the heat, she said.

1 comment:

  1. That judge was very smart! It doesn't work if it doesn't hurt!!
    mom to Nick, 16 and carless!!