By Melanie Wilmoth
A recent report published by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI) reveals that punitive approaches to student discipline do little to curb violence and crime in schools.
JPI points out that the adoption of punitive discipline policies (such as “zero tolerance” policies) in the 1990s led to dramatic increases in the presence of law enforcement in schools:
“In order to enforce zero tolerance policies, there was a concurrent increase in surveillance and security measures in schools that included metal detectors, locker checks, security cameras, and law enforcement or security personnel. For example the regular presence of security guards increased 27 percent between 1999 and 2007.”
Rather than letting school administrators handle discipline problems, schools are increasingly turning to school resource officers (SROs). Essentially, SROs are law enforcement officers who work in schools:
“SROs are typically accountable first to the police department and then to the school, which might pay part of an SRO’s salary or administrative costs. Nonetheless, a handbook for recruiting and retaining SROs, says that an SRO can overrule a school administrator who wants to prevent the arrest of a student.”
Although SROs are trained in law enforcement, there is no policy requiring SROs to be trained to work with students.
JPI argues that school violence and theft have been steadily decreasing over the years. In several studies of schools that have decreased law enforcement presence, there have been no subsequent increases in school crime. In fact, school violence and crime often decrease in these cases. Thus, there is no clear relationship between the presence of SROs in schools and increased school safety.
What is evident is that SROs play a role in the increasing number of students being referred to the juvenile justice system. The majority of kids who are referred to the juvenile justice system are being referred for disorderly conduct, not violent or drug-related behavior. In addition, students of color and students with disabilities are more likely to be referred.
Research suggests that referring kids to the juvenile justice system increases the likelihood that they will drop out of school:
“Within a year of re-enrolling after spending time confined, two-thirds to three-fourths of formerly incarcerated youth withdraw or drop out of school.”
In a similar vein, youth who do not complete high school are more likely to end up in the adult justice system. Specifically, youth who drop out of school are “3.5 times more likely to be incarcerated than someone who completed high school.”
JPI offers several recommendations for reducing punitive approaches to discipline while still maintaining school safety. JPI suggests reducing class sizes, providing behavior management training for staff, building healthy relationships between families, students and teachers, and hiring more counselors. In addition, JPI recommends evidence-based practices when it comes to school discipline. Some of these evidence-based approaches to discipline include Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS), Social and Emotional Learning (SEL), and the Behavioral Monitoring and Reinforcement Program (BMRP).
To read the full JPI report, click here.