Florida’s School-to-Prison Pipeline is Largest in the Nation
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“We’ve lost sight of common-sense discipline,” she said.
Florida is not alone in its zealous use of arrests as a disciplinary response, or in its racially disparate application of school-based arrests. More than 68 percent of youth go to U.S. schools with a police officer assigned to their campus. When police officers are around, what they tend to do is arrest kids, juvenile justice advocates have lamented. Late last year the Department of Justice sued Meridian, Miss., for running a school-to-prison pipeline which ushered a disproportionate number of black students out of school and straight into the waiting arms of the juvenile justice system.
But more police don’t necessarily improve school climates. The American Psychological Association’s sweeping 2006 review found that zero-tolerance policies aren’t effective tools for discouraging misbehavior. Nor do they make schools safer. “While the intentions of putting those police officers in schools is good, they come with an extraordinary number of unintended consequences,” said Lara Herscovitch, a senior policy analyst with the Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance.
In Florida, where Walters’ Department of Juvenile Justice has committed to reducing the rate of school-based arrests by 10 percent this year, the situation is still urgent. Even with recent improvements, the percent of those arrested for petty misdemeanors “hasn’t budged,” Utter said. “While it’s a good thing that fewer children are being arrested, we’re still arresting kids for utter bullshit.”
Groups like the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Advancement Project, along with local affiliates like the Florida NAACP in Broward County are working with educators, law enforcement and school administrators to address the arresting spree.
But for all the recent improvements, the post-Newtown talk of ramping up school security via more police has advocates on watch. Herscovitch says that especially in this post-Newtown climate, when the impulse is to send even more police officers to schools, juvenile justice and school safety advocates “are working very hard to make sure that the response to Newtown doesn’t create another 10 to 20 years of consequences.”