So What Are You In For?

Spanking your child?

That seems like a tough situation all the way around.
Yet revisions to an existing Mississippi law against child abuse would make striking a child punishable by no less than 10 years in prison, and up to a life sentence.  While the revisions maintain the stipulation that “reasonable discipline” can be a defense against a charge of child abuse, they don’t define what “reasonable discipline” is or isn’t, leading one to wonder how judges will define it.
I received an alert about this through a legal association that we belong to as part of home schooling our kids.  The Home School Legal Defense Association is an organization that home school families can join in order to have prompt legal service should there ever be a question or challenge to their home schooling rights.  It sounds kind of drastic, but there are times when either through ignorance or an intentional desire to curtail home schooling activities, school districts and related officials take steps that they aren’t legally entitled to.  
  • So, to research this, I first read the original alert from the HSLDA.  
  • Using the information on the Bill number, I was able to Google the law as it exists and has existed since 1972.  
  • I also Googled the legal definitions for particular terms that are also included in Mississippi law.  
Why am I sharing all of this?  
Because I prefer to try and see for myself what is being reported to me by third parties.  We have grown accustomed to multiple layers of people and institutions that tell us what is happening, and we have gotten out of the habit of looking at what is happening for ourselves.  Note that the original alert doesn’t include any links directly to the legislation.  I find that annoying.
What do I learn from the research?
As the alert indicates, there are no definitions for the key terms either in the existing legislation or the proposed revisions.  The proposed revisions are more specific in enumerating types of abuse (choking, for example).  It makes me wonder if there are particular cases in recent history that exploited a lack of specificity in the law, for which these revisions are proposed.
I notice that the existing law limits the maximum sentence to 20 years, while the proposed revisions allow for a life imprisonment sentence.  The proposed revisions also mandate a minimum sentence of 10 years.  That seems kind of crazy to me.  Granted, if someone is willfully abusing a child, they deserve to be punished.  But mandating a 10 year jail sentence?  Why?  And why allow for a life sentence?  
After reading through it all, I’m not sure what the overall point of the changes are.  The revisions are just as vague as the existing law.  Changing the sentencing parameters certainly puts some teeth into the law, but it seems to me that if there was a clear case of child abuse, the existing law has enough teeth in it as it is.  If a judge can already sentence someone up to 20 years in prison, why insist that she must sentence the person to at least 10?  
HSLDA sees this as a risk to parents disciplining their children, but the existing law is equally vague enough to provide the same type of risk.  The stakes are higher now – which is a reflection of the growing assumption in our culture that almost any crime deserves jail time and plenty of it.  Resulting, of course, in jails and prisons that are overcrowded already.  It’s a curious and disturbing cycle.  

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