Judges tie families together for Xmas

Christmas may be a time for parents to get closer to their teenage and perhaps rebellious children, but for two families in the United States the sentiment has been taken a bit far. By order of the courts, the parents have been literally chained to their offspring for the holiday season.

With American voters demanding ever-more draconian punishment for criminals, chain-gangs have already been re-introduced in several states for prison inmates. Now judges are applying the principle to teenage offenders, ordering them shackled to their parents at home.

The pioneer of this novel form of punishment, apparently designed to hurt the parents as much as the children, is Judge Wayne Creech, of Charleston, South Carolina. Last week, he required that 15-year-old Tonya Kline, charged with burglary, truancy and theft, be shackled to her mother, Deborah Harter, for a month pending trial next month.

Tonya must wear a prison-issue belt fitted with a two-foot chain attached likewise to Mrs Harter. The two sleep next to each other on a sofa-bed in their living room. Whenever Tonya leaves the house - even to attend school - mother goes too. Tonya is only let loose to visit the lavatory and take a shower, but then only in a bathroom without windows.

Mrs Harter, who faces 30 days in jail if she lets go of her daughter, found the ruling a bit surprising. "When he told the fellas to get the shackles, I was kind of shocked," she said. This week, the judge relented slightly, ruling that Tonya's step-father can share in the shackling duty.

Now a judge, in the North Carolina town of Roxboro, has ruled that two teenagers accused of setting fire to a hypermarket be shackled to their parents pending their return to court on 8 January.

Tonya does not seem too disturbed. "It's not as bad as it seems," she said. "It's taught me a lesson. It's already straightened me out."

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