In an effort to curb burglaries and acts of vandalism committed by juveniles, the Prince George's County state's attorney's office has taken steps to force parents to make restitution for property stolen or damaged by their children.
Assistant State's Attorney Elias Silverstein, head of the office's juvenile division, said he has asked his prosecutors to seek court judgments against parents who ignore court orders to make restitution, placing liens on the parents' property holdings until restitution is made.
"From a rehabilitative standpoint . . . the first one to pay should be the kid. But if you've got a case where the kid is responsible for $5,000 in damage and the kid can't pay that for a long time, then (the responsibility) should spread to the parents," Silverstein said. "The victim should not be made to wait," he added.
It is already common for juvenile judges to order either the youth or his parents to make restitution to the victims of burglary or vandalism, Silverstein said.
Under Maryland law, parents can be held liable for up to $5,000 for the property losses or damages caused by their children. Parents also can be ordered to pay the medical expenses of a victim who is injured by their child in an assault.
However, such court orders often are disregarded, Silverstein said. While parents who disregard a judge's order can be held in contempt of court, judges often hesitate to take such action for fear of further disrupting the offender's family.
When parents fail to make the proper restitution, "our ace in the hole will be the judgment," Silverstein said.
The new policy was applauded by Prince George's County Circuit Court Judges Vincent Femia and Robert Woods. "You've got to make people responsible . . . You've got to make kids responsible for the things they do," said Woods, who yesterday entered a judgement of $1,000 against the parents of one juvenile responsible for damaging an auto.
Femia said Silverstein's policy fits in with the "get tough" stance the juvenile court system has taken in recent months.
Femia himself was sending juvenile delinquents to the county detention center, and adult facility for a time, but stopped the practice after he was informed that Maryland law makes it illegal to place juveniles in an adult facility.
In general, county judges have been committing more youngsters - even first offenders - to juvenile detention facilities. Silverstein said.
"Kids used to come in here and get probation," Silverstein said.
The new program is especially aimed at curbing burglaries, which have risen from 5,469 in 1970 to 9,921 last year. Silverstein said. In 1977, Prince George's residents suffered $4.1 million in property damage losses. Silverstein said 60 percent of those losses were caused by persons under age 18.
In Montgomery County, where 420 juveniles were arrested for burglary last year, court officials have not encountered many problems in getting parents to make restitution, according to chief juvenile Judge Douglas Moore. Usually, the court will set up a payment plan by which the parents or the youth can settle the debt, Moore said.
When the parents are ordered to pay, Moore said, "We make it clear that eventually (the youngster) is going to have to pay his parents back."