Juvenile In Justice/Richard RossA Missouri teenager was recently arrested for defacing a yearbook.
Here in America, we like to treat our kids like felons.
A report last week on New York City schools’ troubling use of suspensions and arrests exemplifies a nationwide problem.
In the last academic year, four kids were arrested every single day in New York — including some 11-year-olds.
Kids as young as 7 can be be arrested for misbehaving in NYC schools, the report said.
There’s “no question” that schools throughout America are more frequently treating simple behavioural issues like crimes, Temple University professor Heather Ann Thompson tells Business Insider.
By doing so, we’re stigmatizing kids and putting many of them on what experts call the “school-to-prison pipeline.”
“Not only are more children serving criminal sentences than ever before,” Thompson tells us, “but in turn, this fact has terrible consequences for the ability of children to do well in school, and productive members of adult society.”
How did we get here? Thompson and another criminal justice expert I spoke with, Patrick Metze, don’t believe kids have gotten more violent. Schools are just criminalizing more trivial crimes, they say. (Metze recently did legal work for a 10-year-old whose school wanted him charged with arson because he’d been playing with matches.)
Schools began overacting to kids’ bad behaviour in the 1990s. The Gun-Free Schools Act of 1994 required schools to expel students who brought weapons to school — prompting many schools to adopt “zero tolerance” policies on weapons.
In 1975, just 1% of America’s schools had cops stationed in them, according to a 2011 study in “Justice Quarterly.” That number rose to 40% by 2008 with the help of the DOJ’s cash infusion.
The “Justice Quarterly” study found that as schools increased their police presence, they were more likely to report non-serious violent crimes to the police. From the study:
These findings are consistent with the conclusions from a previous qualitative research … which found that the presence of police officers helps to redefine disciplinary situations as criminal justice problems rather than social, psychological, or academic problems, and accordingly increases the likelihood that students are arrested at school.
The long-term consequences of getting arrested at school can be brutal.
Students who get arrested for having nail clippers or writing on their desks often miss a ton of time from school, Thompson, the Temple professor, tells us. Some don’t get their diploma.
“Not having one’s high school diploma, and having a juvenile record,” she said, “all bode ill for one’s ability to be successful adult.”
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