Get out of jail card free


goojfIt’s a feature in the morning paper every Saturday:

A new list of felonies, 50 exactly this most recent list.

When I turn to that page, I often think about the law professor at Georgetown University I got acquainted with when my wife Toni and I lived in Washington, D.C. That was in 1992.

Toni was on an assignment at the National Science Foundation. I wrote my editorials and columns from The Journal Gazette‘s bureau in the National Press Building.

It’s the weekly list of local felonies that brings Rick the law professor to mind.

At that time, he often visited local D.C. high schools to teach them about the law. I don’t recall that he hoped his talks would help some students stay out of trouble. No doubt the kids would be better informed about the law after his visits.

If you look over the current high school curriculum in most districts, you’ll discover the standard fare – social studies, English, various levels of math, shop and home economics.

I’d be surprised if more than a few schools in Indiana or any state offer a high school law class. Of course, your standard government class touches on statutes and the mechanics of how proposals become law.

Granted, my knowledge is dated. My last year as a high school teacher was the 1969-1970 school year. Still, a check of a few web sites suggests that the curriculum hasn’t changed much. I think it’s time for an addition.

Here they are, some 50 people in our county, likely facing time in jail, maybe even prison. Maybe big fines, too. You can bet that they heard of the Bill of Rights. You can bet their high school teachers also introduced them to other legal provisions in the American system of government.

Somehow, these 50 people recently charged with felonies missed a very important lesson in school: How to stay out of trouble with the law.

In many families, you just never think of breaking the law. Oh, you might get a traffic ticket. But as a rule that doesn’t put you at risk of being locked up, for months, maybe years.

Offenses in Saturday’s felony list includes cocaine dealing, drunk driving, child molesting, invasion of privacy, carrying an unlicensed handgun. I suppose none of these people charged thought they could get arrested.

I’m also sure that many of them had committed some offense before and never got caught. Apparently, these people took one chance too many.

Would a class on staying out of jail have spared them all this grief? I’d like to believe that such a class might well have kept a few of these people on the straight and narrow.

There’s the “Scared Straight” program. Here juvenile officials take kids who’ve committed an offense for a visit at Rahway State Prison in New Jersey to hear prisoners lecture them on staying out of trouble.

Problem is, the research on this program suggests it doesn’t work. Does the visit with hardened criminals even glamorize crime? I’ve wondered.

But I think a good high school class on crime could be worthwhile. What I have in mind is a class that introduces students to all manner of crime and criminal justice. Start with criminal behavior. Talk about policing, invite police commanders to lecture and answer questions.

By all means, such a class would tell students about the risks of apprehension and imprisonment. It would run directly counter to the advice they might get from stupid friends who think they’ve got an easy way of getting money.

This class would give every student lots to think about. One student might go into law enforcement. Another might take up a career in the law. Another might be challenged to become a juvenile worker.

Often schools fail to teach the most basic lessons – how to choose a spouse, how to pick a career, how to buy a house and how to decide where to live. But few lessons in life are more important than staying out of jail. Sure, you might pick up that lesson from your parents. Most of us do.

But lots of folks fail to get the message. About 50 of them in our county every week.

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