Opinions Column by Doug Wojcieszak, 02/28/95 Whack! Whack! Whack! Whack! That's what it must have sounded like to Michael Fay as he had his tail feathers warmed by the Singapore authorities last May. To refresh everyone, Michael Fay is the American teen who was convicted of spray-painting cars while staying with his mother and stepfather in Singapore. The authorities sentenced young Michael to four strokes with a wet cane on the bare buttocks and three months in jail. The bleeding hearts said the Singapore government was a bunch of big meanies for caning poor Michael, but mean or not, young Michael has most likely spray-painted his last. Now jump to America, where we're battling our own crime problem. Democrats want more cops on the streets, and they also want to preserve crime prevention programs, such as the much maligned midnight basketball. Republicans want to build more prisons, are in favor of the death penalty and want to let the states decide how to use funds for crime prevention. Somewhere in the middle of all that political bickering, the Michael Fay story is being forgotten. Most Americans approved of Singapore's caning of Fay, and a good number of them wanted to see something similar instituted here. The politicians should give this idea a try, but with the right kind of criminals. There is a certain youth population that has not been reached by crime prevention programs such as midnight basketball. We see them every night on television being arrested for destruction of property, fighting, drug dealing, etc, etc. However, prison is not for all of them. I remember watching an interview with a prison warden on television, and the good warden said when you have a bunch of juvenile delinquents under the same roof they have to become really bad guys to survive. Conclusion: Putting kids in prisons produces career criminals. It's in our best interest to straighten out young hoodlums, and some form of Singapore justice might do the trick. Any doubters can argue with Judge Walter Williams of Chattanooga, Tenn., whose story was told in a recent edition of Newsweek. Three years ago, Judge Williams entertained 18-year-old Stacey Hayes in his courtroom. The young man had been arrested on assault charges stemming from a drive-by shooting. Judge Williams ordered Stacey into his chambers and whipped him. After he put his belt back on, the judge ordered Stacey to get a job and finish his high school education. Stacey now gives Judge Williams regular calls to report on his progress. In his three years on the bench, Judge Williams has "encouraged" more than 500 people to finish their high school educations. The good judge also believes in public acts of restitution. He ordered a youth who broke into a church to go back to that same church and shine the pews. And he ordered another youth who set off fire alarms at a busy hotel as a prank to polish the fire department's trucks. Bravo! Judge Williams' justice is immediate, inexpensive and, most importantly, it makes young people feel ashamed about their bad deeds. Shame is a good thing. It changes behavior to fit the societal norm. Think back to grammar-school days: Most of us experienced the shame and embarrassment brought on by a spanking, being forced to apologize to another person or having to fix or replace something we destroyed. It didn't feel good at the time, but it made us better people in the long run. Unfortunately, not every kid is subjected to that kind of tough love. And I will argue that a disproportionate amount of these kids end up getting in trouble with the law. To cut them off at the pass (i.e., before they become career criminals), we should have a Judge Williams in every juvenile court. And, thankfully, some states are trying to do just that. The state of Mississippi recently adopted a bill that would allow judges to order paddlings instead of prison sentences, but not in the most serious cases like murder or rape. And in New York, a state senator recently proposed that judges be given the option to sentence graffiti artists ages 13 to 18 to as many as 10 strikes with a paddle. But that leaves 48 states, including Illinois. Judges in all states should instruct parents or guardians of first-time juvenile offenders (excluding rape and murder convicts) to whip or paddle their little darlings. If the parents or guardians refuse, then the judge can carry out the punishment. Juvenile delinquents should also be required to pay restitution in the form of a public service equivalent to the dollar amount that was needed to arrest and process them through the juvenile court system. And, if at all possible, the delinquents should serve or help the people, business or institution they injured through their criminal actions. Finally, the length of juvenile's probation should be contingent upon their grades in school. Get an A in algebra, and the court will let you off early. Sure, it won't work for all kids, but it's got to be better than what we're doing now.
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