Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools

Justice Policy Institute
November 17, 2011
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Having school resource officers (SROs) and other police in schools causes more harm than good, according to Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools, a report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI). When schools have law enforcement on site, students are more likely to get arrested by police instead of having discipline handled by school officials. This leads to more kids being funneled into the juvenile justice system, which is both expensive and associated with a host of negative impacts on youth.  

Education Under Arrest CoverThe report compiles information and data showing that school resource officers needlessly drive up arrests for behavior issues that can, and should, be dealt with inside the school. For example, in Birmingham, Alabama, 96 percent of juvenile court referrals for students were for misdemeanor offenses or minor violations. A study of sample schools with and without SROs found that schools with an SRO had nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without an SRO.

"Students are needlessly arrested for offenses as minor as disorderly conduct, which can include swearing at a teacher or throwing spitballs," noted Petteruti. "SROs lead to discipline applied without the filter of school administrators or policies. This in turn leads to a troubling disruption of the educational process through suspension and expulsion, the result of which is some students who never become re-connected to school."

Unnecessarily arresting students is counterproductive to the education of our nation's youth. High school students who come in contact with the courts are more likely to drop out. Two-thirds to three-fourths of youth who were confined in a juvenile justice facility withdrew or dropped out within a year of re-enrolling; after four years, less than 15 percent of these youth had completed their secondary education.

The report also notes that from 2004 to 2007, the number of school resource officers (SROs) in schools has declined 8.9 percent, while the rate of student-reported crime dropped from 73 per 1,000 in 2003 to 57 per 1,000 in 2007. This suggests both that communities are beginning to question the value of SROs, and that school safety can be improved without over-criminalizing student misbehavior.

"When we choose SROs and police over guidance counselors and teachers, we send a powerful message to students that we are not invested in their success. And when we handle discipline in the police station instead of inside schools, too often we send our children onto a downward spiral and burden them with a lifetime of barriers to employment, education, and housing," said Jim Freeman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a next generation civil rights organization focused on issues of democracy and race.

Additionally, SROs and harsh, zero-tolerance policies are more likely to affect youth of color and youth with disabilities. That schools face funding cuts if they do not meet annual yearly progress on tests is incentivizing pushing out struggling students.

Education Under Arrest also recommends investing in schools and implementing practices like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Social and Emotional Learning; these result in better outcomes without negative effects of SROs such as unnecessary arrests and involvement in the juvenile justice system.

Click below to read Education Under Arrest.

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