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In schools with hammers, guess what kids become

Posted by Carol Rose, On Liberty  May 2, 2012 02:23 PM

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To a person wielding a hammer, every problem looks like a nail. So it's no surprise that when you put a bunch of armed cops into public schools, they start arresting kids for behaviors such as swearing, banging lockers, and throwing tantrums--behavior that is nothing new but that, once upon a time, parents and school officials used to handle.

That's what our report Arrested Futures: The Criminalization of School Discipline in Massachusetts' Three Largest School Districts found. In this study of three comparable Massachusetts cities--Boston, Worcester, and Springfield--researchers for the ACLU and Citizens for Juvenile Justice found that where schools deploy uniformed police officers in the hallways, kids are handcuffed, booked, and locked up for committing "public order" offenses at a far higher rate than at schools where social workers are hired to walk the halls instead. The cops are the hammers; the kids are the nails. Wham.

Consider these facts:

  • Between 28 and 38 percent of Boston school-based arrests were justified using "public order" offenses. That means relatively minor disruptions--not offenses involving weapons, drugs, or violence.

  • Racial disparities for school-based arrests were particularly disturbing in Boston. African-Americans make up approximately one-third of the student population, yet two-thirds of school-based arrests involved African-American students, and 70 percent of those arrested for "public order" offenses (like swearing) were African-American.

  • This is expensive yet ineffective. In 2012, Boston budgeted $4.5 million, including $4 million to fund School Resource Officers who are permanently stationed in school buildings. Boston also relies on assistance from 15 officers from the Boston Police Department's School Police Unit. Despite this large investment, there is no evidence that the presence of police officers makes schools safer or improves school climate.

It's time to focus our tax dollars on educating upstanding citizens rather than incarcerating and inculcating kids for a life of crime.

A copy of the Arrested Futures report is available here.

This blog is not written or edited by or the Boston Globe.
The author is solely responsible for the content.

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About the author

Carol Rose is executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts. A lawyer and journalist, Carol has spent her career working for and writing about human rights and civil liberties, both in the United States and abroad. More »

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