Stop (Doodling) in the Name of the Law
In light of last week’s news that a 12-year-old Queens girl was arrested and handcuffed for doodling on her desk,** I thought it was as good a time as any to link to the ACLU’s School-to-Prison Pipeline Game. OK, it’s not really much of a game, but it does provide a handy overview of how zero-tolerance policies in schools have the effect of pushing youth out of school and into the criminal justice system. If you prefer your facts in bullet form, here’s a link to some basic info. Some highlights:
- Growing numbers of school districts employ full-time police officers, or “school resource officers,” to patrol middle and high school hallways. With little or no training in working with youth, these officers approach youth as they would adult “perps” on the street, rather than children at school.
- Children are far more likely to be arrested at school than they were a generation ago. The vast majority of these arrests are for non-violent offenses such as “disruptive conduct” or “disturbance of the peace.”
- Children as young as five years old are being led out of classrooms in handcuffs for acting out or throwing temper tantrums. Students have been arrested for throwing an eraser at a teacher, breaking a pencil, and having rap lyrics in a locker. These children do not belong in jail.
- The explosion of school-based arrests cannot be attributed to an increase in youth violence. Between 1992 and 2002, school violence actually dropped by about half. Despite the fear generated by a handful of highly publicized school shootings, schools remain the safest places for young people.
- In 2003, African-American youth made up 16% of the nation’s overall juvenile population, but accounted for 45% of juvenile arrests.
- There is no evidence that students of color misbehave to a greater degree than white students. They are, however, punished more severely, often for behaviors that are less serious.
** Full disclosure: I committed this exact same grievous “crime” as a 12-year-old, though as I recall, my only “punishment” was to wash the desk. Obviously, this was an overly lax response that sent me the wrong message and thereby pushed me right into a life of crime — er, I mean, law school.