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Arrests in schools disproportionate and detrimental, study shows

A new study from the ACLU and Citizens for Juvenile Justice adds to the already broad supporting research that shows over-reliance on school-based police–and arrest in particular–undermines students’ feelings of security and safety, and furthers the criminalization process known as the school-to-prison pipeline, while simultaneously discouraging the use of more positive, evidence-based discipline models that result in better outcomes for youth and schools.

The authors of the study looked at arrest data from Massachusetts’ three largest school districts and found that the majority of arrests were for “public order” offenses, like “disturbing lawful assembly”. However, many offenses that resulted in public order arrests were because of behavior like unruliness, disrespect of staff or use of profanity. One student was even arrested for throwing a cheeseburger.

They also found that students of color and students with learning disabilities were disproportionately affected by policing practices in these school districts. In Boston, African American students accounted for 65 percent of all arrests in public schools, despite making up only 23 percent of the student body. In Springfield, 66 percent of all in-school arrests were of Hispanic students, though they accounted for only 55 percent of the student body. Further, the schools with the highest rates of arrests were schools specifically set up to serve students with diagnosed behavioral and learning disabilities.

The authors conclude that “safety in schools can be enhanced by increasing both structure and support: adopting rules that are strictly and fairly enforced and having adults at the school who are caring, supportive and willing to help students.”

Read the full study here.

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