One-half of California youngsters questioned in a State Bar survey admit they have broken the law although most agreed the threat of spending a year in jail would serve as an effective deterrent.
At the same time, significant numbers of the children polled do not believe it is against the law to break curfew or "beat up" another individual, nor do a majority understand they face consequences in the juvenile justice system if they commit a crime at school.
The survey, which polled 600 California youngsters between the ages of 10-14, also found:
"This survey shows that when kids are clear that something is illegal and believe that punishment will be forthcoming and tough, they are far more likely to obey the law," said State Bar President Jim Towery. "It is up to all of us involved with the law to work with teachers and parents to ensure our kids have no misconceptions when it comes to the law and its consequences."
The telephone survey, conducted for the bar by Charlton Research Co. and underwritten by a grant from the Foundation of the State Bar, targeted 10- to 14-year-olds because child psychologists and criminal behavior experts identify those years as critical in the prevention of future destructive or illegal behavior. The survey was done as part of the bar's commitment to helping reduce juvenile delinquency and violence through education.
It found a fair amount of confusion about both what acts are illegal and consequences for illegal activities. For example, significant numbers do not believe it is against the law to break curfew (36 percent), to beat up someone (31 percent), skip school (23 percent) or break into someone else's locker (17 percent).
A majority does not understand that punishment for breaking the law while at school can be imposed by the juvenile justice system.
What was clear, however, was the almost unanimous agreement by those polled that they would not break they law if they knew the punishment would involve going to jail for a year or more.
Of the kids who said they would skip school, break curfew or break rules at school if they didn't think they would get caught, only one-half said they'd break those same laws if they thought their parents would find out.