One of the leading voices against State Sen. (and candidate for governor) Anthony Williams’ parent-jailing Bill 99 is Shelly D. Yanoff, executive director of Public Citizens for Children and Youth. She was quoted by the Daily News as saying of the bill’s goals: “Ironically, some have noted that it can result in less parental responsibility rather than more.”
Yanoff spoke with PhillyNow about her thoughts on the proposed bill and what it means for Philly families. This shouldn’t come as a surprise, but her ultimate conclusion on threatening a year of prison for parents of delinquents: “Often when we identify a problem and we don’t know what to do about it, we say, 'let’s take the toughest stance whether it makes sense or not.' I don’t think this makes sense.”
Though the D.A.'s Office at first expressed interest in speaking to PhillyNow, attempts to speak with D.A. Seth Williams directly were unsuccessful.
Yanoff on where she and Sen. Williams agree: “We agree with the fact that we have a problem, and that we need to figure out ways to have parents more engaged in raising their children. We also agree that we haven’t been so successful in doing that with a small number of families.”
On why the bill is wrong: “We don’t believe that there is any reason to believe, both in the data and in experience, that threatening families and putting them in jail will provide better results. Of the states that have tried these laws – and there are many states that have cast these – they don’t show any results in lowering delinquency.
“It’s been found over the years in Philadelphia – there have been threats to put parents in jail – most of the time it doesn’t make sense because these families are very low income. It doesn’t improve the lives of the kids or the families. Though I understand the search. We have to keep trying to engage and work with families but I don’t think that threatening them with criminal charges is the way to do it.”
On the prevention programs being worked into the bill, like Don’t Fall Down In The Hood and Project GO (of which our D.A. cited the need to “work together to revive” in testimony): “We have a lot of – we’ve had this bill, built into it, a lot of prevention programs but those programs are always vulnerable to being cut. It shouldn’t be this way, as Seth Williams said, but it might become an unfunded mandate. The D.A.’s Office doesn’t have so much extra money, last I heard, that they can float these extra programs.
“In this serious time of no money, when we’re all still in the middle of the recession, it would be nice if more prevention programs would be funded, but it doesn’t seem to me that we can be sure about that. Therefore if it were seriously implemented and we didn’t have a lot of diversion programs, we would be filling out courts and jails, which doesn’t make much sense either.”
On the D.A.’s role in all this: “The other part of it is that [the bill] dispenses all of the decision making to the District Attorney’s Office. Having the decision to put someone in jail or not shouldn’t be exclusively up to the prosecutor.”
Hmm...wonder what the D.A. thinks about that.
On implementation of the bill: “There are thousands of kids who are truant. I can’t imagine at the time – we’re talking about adolescents and parents don’t have as much power over their adolescents as they’d like to have, so I don’t know how we would, how it would be implemented.
“The parent who is a poor parent who cant afford to pay a fine, if they pay a fine they have to sacrifice something else in their home life. If they don’t pay a fine they’re threatened with jail. That is not family building.”
State Sen. Williams thinks parents of problem children should spend a year behind bars. And here comes the bill.
Only Sen. Anthony Williams' plan (to lock up the parents of problem teens) is, well, a plan. That could spell trouble for the city.