Should Bullies Go to Jail?

Should school bullies be locked up behind bars? Yes, that is extreme, and schools haven't yet gotten to that point. But as bullying has extended beyond the campus and seeped into victims' private lives through Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites, some are calling for more harsh punishments that could include police intervention. Just how strong, many are asking, should anti-bullying laws get?

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New Jersey Gets Tough

If you're going to be pushing your classmates around in a New Jersey school this year, you better watch out: more eyes will be on you. The state's Anti-Bullying Bill of Rights, signed into law by Governor Chris Christie in January 2011, calls for schools to be a whole lot tougher on bullies starting this year.

While it certainly falls short of hauling bullies off to jail, the law is considered the toughest against bullies in the United States. From students reporting bullying incidents directly to police officials to increased training for teachers and administrators, the bill is New Jersey's response to increased student suicides linked to on- and off-campus bullying.

Quicker Response Times

New Jersey's legislation puts much more responsibility than ever before on school officials to recognize and report bullying. The new law calls for quicker responses to bullying or harassment incidents by a school principal (same-day reporting is required), quicker parent notification, extensive investigation procedures and the appointing of an anti-bullying specialist.

New Jersey will also require bi-annual reports by every school to be submitted to the public as well as the state Department of Education. Adherence to this policy will be recorded and schools will be graded based on their compliance.

Police Involvement

In East Hanover, New Jersey schools, those who witness an act of bullying can report it directly to the sheriff's office.

Partnering with the Morris County Sheriff Office's Crimestoppers program, local schools have implemented a procedure in which students can call, text or contact law enforcement officials via their website about any bullying incident in the school. Officers then send a detailed report to school officials, becoming involved if there is an assault or other criminal behavior.

This is the first such program in New Jersey and it is being lauded for its ability to allow witnesses to remain anonymous and to deliver their accounts without being seen going to a principal's office. This, it is believed, will reduce the possibility of retaliation by the bully.

Jail Time for Criminal Activity

While rare, bullies facing criminal charges and jail time is not unheard of. Assault, for instance, is a criminal offense. And with cyber-bullying now becoming an increasing problem, harassment in and outside school halls that leads to the victim's death can also lead to criminal charges.

Take the case of Phoebe Prince, a 15-year-old sophomore at South Hadley High School in Massachusetts, who committed suicide in January 2010 after repeated physical and verbal assaults. All teens connected with the bullying faced criminal charges and possible jail time, though plea deals in all cases reduced those charges.

In Concord, New Hampshire in September 2010, one high school student who pled guilty to two misdemeanor charges in connection to the tattooing of a freshman at Concord High School spent 45 days in jail.

So while jail time may not often be the result, other states could eventually follow New Jersey's lead and maybe get even tougher. So if you're thinking about being a bully, you might think again. You may wind up in more than the principal's office.

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