Sunday, June 4, 2006

when would you have your kid arrested?

under what conditions would you have your teenage kids arrested?

my local sheriff bob fletcher ordered his 17-year old son arrested on tuesday, after his ex-wife found the teenager passed out among syringes and other paraphernalia. sheriff fletcher is the most powerful elected law enforcement official in ramsey county, which includes the capitol city of st. paul in its jurisdiction.

many are criticizing the sheriff, saying that such matters are best handled in the home or with voluntary drug treatment. some cynical observers are even suggesting that sheriff fletcher ordered the arrest because he was up for re-election this fall and wished to appear "tough on crime." i can't imagine anyone raising teenagers would make such accusations, but people are willing to believe anything about elected officials. here's the sheriff:

"I love my son dearly, but right now, the best place for him is in the criminal justice system," he said. "The message I want to talk about is how important it is for parents not to defend their kid but to hold them accountable and to make the call, whether that call is to a crisis connection or a treatment center or a law enforcement agency."

i guess i would only make such a call if my children posed an imminent threat to themselves or others and my own efforts had failed to address the threat. i can't say whether this position would change if i were a sworn law enforcement officer, but i'd be capable of desperate action if i thought either of my kids were closing in on a fatal overdose. still, i think that scrutinizing the parents in such cases smacks of misplaced "piling on." these are families in pain, who have worked their way up a ladder of graduated treatment and punishment and now find themselves on the top rung with nothing to grab hold of.

i'm sad to admit that at 16 i once put my parents in a similar position. i can't say that i'm glad they called the police and had me arrested, but i know they didn't make the decision lightly and that they were desperately trying to act in my best interests. like the sheriff's kid, i had all the advantages of middle-class resources and parental support; everything turned out more-or-less okay for me. unlike the sheriff's kid, i was never charged with two felony counts for heroin and cocaine possession and gross misdemeanor escape. nor was my family drama played out in public.

every year, hundreds of adolescents and their families make their way through such trouble in ramsey county alone. here's hoping that in twenty-five years most of them will also be able to say "everything turned out more-or-less okay."

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