I have long been critical of the criminalization of American society, particularly at our schools We have seen school pranks charged as crimes in high school (and here). Now three 12-year-old girls at Deltona Middle School in Volusia County in Florida have been charged for the prank of putting pepper in the soft drink of their teacher. The question is why these cases (which used to be handled as a disciplinary matter for the school) had to be handed over to the police and prosecutors. There are heavy penalties that can be meted out like barring the student from graduation.
The girls acted after one of the girls was disciplined by teacher Jayne Morgan. As one girl distracted Morgan, another put red pepper flakes into her soft drink. A third girl (the one disciplined earlier) had brought the red flakes from home.
The teacher gagged on the pepper and then spotted the flakes after pouring the soda into a clear glass.
I do not take such incidents lightly, particularly when the act is in retaliation for discipline. That can be a dangerous prank. While it was just pepper, some people can have severe reactions to such additives. Just because this is a kitchen spice does not mean that it cannot do serious damage. However, there is still the question of when a prank should be elevated to a criminal matter. There was a time when this would have been handled with suspensions and internal discipline — supported by stern parental measures. Instead, the girls have been charged with tampering with a consumer product and poisoning. Those are very serious charges for a stupid, adolescent prank. I certainly do not think that the criminal law process will be good for the girls, who deserve severe punishment through the school system. I would expel the girls and send them to another high school on probation for the remainder of their pre-college schooling.
What do you think? Do you think criminal charges are warranted.