Monday, November 03, 2014

Creating Criminals

Many of you know that I’m on a committee of non-government organizations and state agencies working to make schools safer and an article in the Wall Street Journal caught my attention. The article is about making students criminals for common student mischief; now instead of going to the principal’s office for discipline they are being arrested by the school resource officer otherwise known as a police officer.
For More Teens, Arrests by Police Replace School Discipline
Oct. 20, 2014

A generation ago, schoolchildren caught fighting in the corridors, sassing a teacher or skipping class might have ended up in detention. Today, there’s a good chance they will end up in police custody.

Stephen Perry, now 18 years old, was trying to avoid a water balloon fight in 2013 when he was swept up by police at his Wake County, N.C., high school; he revealed he had a small pocketknife and was charged with weapons possession. Rashe France was a 12-year-old seventh-grader when he was arrested in Southaven, Miss., charged with disturbing the peace on school property after a minor hallway altercation.

In Texas, a student got a misdemeanor ticket for wearing too much perfume. In Wisconsin, a teen was charged with theft after sharing the chicken nuggets from a classmate’s meal—the classmate was on lunch assistance and sharing it meant the teen had violated the law, authorities said. In Florida, a student conducted a science experiment before the authorization of her teacher; when it went awry she received a felony weapons charge.
This arrest wave, in many ways, starts at school. Concern by parents and school officials over drug use and a spate of shootings prompted a rapid buildup of police officers on campus and led to school administrators referring minor infractions to local authorities. That has turned traditional school discipline, memorialized in Hollywood coming-of-age movies such as “The Breakfast Club,” into something that looks more like the adult criminal-justice system.
These arrests have long last consequences for the student because they now have an arrest record and it will limit their ability to get a job or go to college when they graduate. We are handicapping them when they need a hand up the most.

It hits marginalized students the most including trans-students. It is usually minority students and victims of bullies that get arrested; do you remember the California student who was arrested in the fall of 2013 when she fought back against the bullies who assaulted her?
Chief juvenile court judge Steven Teske said 80% of the referrals were for African-Americans, in a system where 71% of the students were black. The Justice Department has charged that the impact of school arrests falls disproportionately on African-American students. It has a consent decree with one Mississippi school district over their school discipline policies, including arrests.
There are better ways to handle minor infractions of school rules besides arresting the student. In a couple of towns here in Connecticut they have a student court, the cases are not heard in school where the infraction occurred but in a neighboring town to prevent bias. I agree that student resource officers are necessary in todays’ school but they should not be there in their full capacity as a police officers but just to be there to deal with something that school officials cannot handle.

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