Parents could face fines, jail under proposed South Fulton ordinance

Some residents are so tired of juvenile crime in the City of South Fulton, they want officials to pass a special ordinance to hold parents accountable for their children's crimes.

"I just want to send a clear message in the City of South Fulton we will do everything as legislators to make sure our residents are safe," said Helen Zenobia Willis, a councilwoman for the City of South Fulton.

A resident approached Willis with the idea and she drafted a "parental responsibility" ordinance based on a similar code already in place in Savannah, Georgia.  

Under the ordinance, a judge could issue a written warning to any parent or guardian who is convicted of failing to properly supervise a child. A second conviction could result in up to 30 days in jail as well as a fine of as much as $1000. 

The ordinance includes 11 "parental duties" including keeping controlled substances out of their homes, keeping firearms out of their child's possession, requiring the child to adhere to the city curfew and requiring the child to attend school.

Willis believes the ordinance would help the city address the ongoing issue of juvenile crime.  Current state law makes it difficult for law enforcement to hold teens who are involved nonviolent crimes like car and home break-ins. Instead, they are usually released to the custody of their parents, who Willis said may or may not take action. The ordinance, she explained, is not designed to punish parents who do try to intervene when their children misbehave.  

"It applies to the parents who are not supervising their children and who have children in the community who is terrorizing us and they're not doing anything to correct their behaviors," said Willis. 

Some parents, however, disagree with the idea.  

"It's a penalty. To me, it's almost like a penalty for being a parent," said Tracy Rolle, who would prefer to see the city add more intervention programs and drug rehabilitation options. 

Harvey Davis said he has concerns about how enforcement will be handled and how the legal system will determine whether a parent is involved or not.  

"The problem I have is that it assumes that most parents are not doing their job and a lot of parents are doing everything they can," Davis said. 

To address some of those concerns, Willis said she will consider adding a "restorative justice" component to the ordinance, which would give judges the discretion to suspend any fines or jail time for parents who can prove they are trying to get their child help.

Willis said she has heard from many residents on both sides and she plans to host a town hall meeting to discuss the ordinance before bringing it to the full council for a vote.  

"We're not talking about stealing bubblegum here, we're talking about major crimes," said Daphne Jordan, who supports the ordinance. "I don't think anyone's thinking of the victim."