Although juvenile crime is on the rise, no one would have expected Michelle Dupree, 12, to make the Most Wanted List of Marlborough, Mass. Yet when the shy, soft-spoken sixth grader learned that there was a warrant out for her arrest, she could at least take consolation from knowing she was not alone. In the last two years about 200 residents of this largely working-class town of 30,600 near Boston have faced their first criminal charge—for not returning books or records to the public library. “I’m just basically doing my job,” says Lillian Giuliano, the town library director, who knows the intricate legalities of “willful detention of library books” as intimately as the Dewey Decimal System. No one has yet been incarcerated on the charge, and Giuliano admits, “I don’t want borrowers dragged off to jail, but I do want the books back, because they’re so hard to replace.”
Armed with bulging sheaves of yellow summonses, Giuliano has become a familiar figure in district court. Although the delinquency rate has dropped slightly since she began her legal campaign—800 items were not returned last year, compared to 900 in 1979—most scoff laws still fail to appear in court to pay a possible $25 fine. Sometimes the books and records cannot be returned: Michelle’s were destroyed in a fire in her family’s home. The warrant was issued after she failed to appear in court to answer a summons she claims she never received.
Many offenders find the crackdown hard to take seriously. Barbara Wirzburger says that when a policeman telephoned her to say her husband, Paul, could be dragged away “in handcuffs in the middle of the night,” she couldn’t stop laughing. “My husband is as straight a person as you could meet,” she says. “I don’t think he’s ever even gotten a parking ticket.” Barbara says that the missing books are still in crates, because she and Paul recently married and moved into her house. Paul, a food broker, isn’t talking. Perhaps he finds it ominous that one of the books he didn’t return is a Kurt Vonnegut novel: Jailbird.