Wednesday, April 17, 2013

New York Times examines school-to-prison pipeline

As more and more school districts add police officers or armed security guards to their list of employees the number of students who are arrested as a form of discipline soars.  The New York Times recently examined the school-to-prison pipeline.

The most striking impact of school police officers so far, critics say, has been a surge in arrests or misdemeanor charges for essentially nonviolent behavior — including scuffles, truancy and cursing at teachers — that sends children into the criminal courts.

“There is no evidence that placing officers in the schools improves safety,” Denise C. Gottfredson, a criminologist at the University of Maryland who is an expert in school violence told the Times. “And it increases the number of minor behavior problems that are referred to the police, pushing kids into the criminal system.”

Nationwide, hundreds of thousands of students are arrested or given criminal citations at schools each year. A large share are sent to court for relatively minor offenses, with black and Hispanic students and those with disabilities disproportionately affected, according to recent reports from civil rights groups, including the Advancement Project, in Washington, and the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, in New York.

Such criminal charges may be most prevalent in Texas, where police officers based in schools write more than 100,000 misdemeanor tickets each year, Deborah Fowler, the deputy director of Texas Appleseed, a legal advocacy center in Austin, told the Times. The students seldom get legal aid, she noted, and they may face hundreds of dollars in fines, community service and, in some cases, a lasting record that could affect applications for jobs or the military.

While schools may bring in police officers to provide security, the officers often end up handling discipline and handing out charges of disorderly conduct or assault, said Michael Nash, the presiding judge of juvenile court in Los Angeles and the president of the National Council of Juvenile and Family Court Judges.

“You have to differentiate the security issue and the discipline issue,” he told the Times. “Once the kids get involved in the court system, it’s a slippery slope downhill.”

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