How the Juvenile Justice System is Broken: The Bullies in Blue Need the Boot

In the United States, the Juvenile Justice system is the collection of multiple state and local court-based systems that handle minors who come in contact with law enforcement, are accused of breaking the law, or are convicted of criminal offences.

According to the Texas Commission on Law Enforcement, in the state of Texas, out of the thousand school districts over three hundred of them have their own internal police department. According to Michael Antu, the Deputy Chief of the Commission, of the hundred and ninety-two law enforcement agencies that have been created in Texas since 2017, ninety-nine of them are school police departments. The uniformed police officers who are placed at schools across the country are known as “School Resource Officers” or SROs. Their job is to patrol the school and make sure that it is a safe environment for the students to learn and be, but how safe is it actually?

Many of the schools that have SROs look more like detention centers rather than schools. They are decorated with full-body metal detectors, detection wands, security cameras, and officers as the hall and premise monitors. How are students supposed to feel safe when right outside of their classroom door there is someone who is fully armed and legally allowed to use physical force on them? Students of colour, visible minorities, and physical and mental disabilities are affected the most by the people who are actually meant to keep them safe. They are penalized for every little thing; they are more likely than their white peers to be taken aside or out of class for misbehaving; they are more likely to be physically attacked by an officer; they are more likely to be assumed guilty. The list can go on and on, but the reality is that they have not done anything wrong except being a child. Yet, they are still more likely to go to into the system as a juvenile and again as an adult.

The main reason for SROs is to make sure that there is no illegal activity going on and to deal with it in an orderly fashion (if there is any). However, the ACLU office in Pennsylvania researched the impact of school policing and found that “There is no clear empirical basis for the claim that SROs reduce student crime rates” (Kupchik, 1). If there has not been a reduction in the student crime rates, can we really claim that SROs are actually useful? Or that they are properly doing their jobs? In fact, in an article published by Brookings, they mention that SROs “have been linked with increased arrests for noncriminal, youthful behaviour, [and] fueling the school-to-prison pipeline [program]” (King and Schindler).

The officers are not meant to be educators or reinforcers of the school rules such as dress code, skipping class, or having devices out, yet they still act like they have that authority. SROs flag students for every little thing, creating a file and putting them into the criminal justice system for horseplay or situations that could and should be handled by school educators and administrators. The police officers in schools are doing jobs that they are not trained or meant to do, it creates a concentrated policing site which often leads to the formation of school-to-prison pipeline programs. It should make you sick that school and prison are even in the same sentence, much more the fact that it is hyphenated. There are too many students affected by these programs. These school-to-prison programs are a gateway for these children right into the criminal justice system, it fuels mass incarceration. There are countless. Countless, stories that just prove that officers should not be in schools. The ACLU has an entire page and multiple testimonies from students who have been affected by the officers in their school. I recommend reading them to educate yourself, the link is posted below. Just note that their stories are disheartening.

  1. “Bullies in Blue: The Problem with School Policing.” American Civil Liberties Union, DuckDuckGo, https://www.aclu.org/issues/juvenile-justice/school-prison-pipeline/bullies-blue-problem-school-policing-infographic.
  2. Henning, Kristin. “Cops at the Schoolyard Gate.” Vox, Vox Media, 28 July 2021, https://www.vox.com/the-highlight/22580659/police-in-school-resource-officers-sro.
  3. King, Ryan, and Marc Schindler. “A Better Path Forward for Criminal Justice: Reconsidering Police in Schools.” Brookings, The Brookings Institution, Apr. 2022, https://www.brookings.edu/research/a-better-path-forward-for-criminal-justice-reconsidering-police-in-schools/.
  4. Kupchik, Aaron. “Research on the Impact of School Policing – FISA Foundation.” FISA Foundation, ACLU Pennsylvania, Aug. 2020, https://fisafoundation.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/08/Research-on-School-Policing-by-Aaron-Kupchik-July-2020.pdf.
  5. Méndez, María. “Almost 100 Texas School Districts Have Added Their Own Police Departments Since 2017, But Not Everyone Feels Safer.” The Texas Tribune, The Texas Tribune, 15 June 2022, https://www.texastribune.org/2022/06/15/uvalde-school-officers-texas-shootings/#:~:text=Today%2C%20there%20are%20309%20school,deputy%20chief%20of%20the%20commission.
  6. “What Is Juvenile Justice?” The Annie E. Casey Foundation, The Annie E. Casey Foundation, 13 Dec. 2020, https://www.aecf.org/blog/what-is-juvenile-justice.

Girls Behind Bars

Photo by Richard Ross

 

Photo by Richard Ross

Photo by Richard Ross

An increasing number of detained juveniles are girls.  Author and photographer Richard Ross interviewed and photographed over 250 girls detention facilities in his new book, Girls in Justice.  Ross found girls who had suffered horrific abuse, and most were first arrested for running away or for larceny theft.  In the Mother’s Jones article on the book, Ross said

“We confine and often demonize a group of kids who have been abused and violated by the very people who should be protecting and loving them . . . These girls in detention and commitment facilities are further abused by an organized system that can’t recognize or respond to their history and their needs…Is this the only solution we can offer?”

You can find the full Mother Jones article on the book here: http://www.motherjones.com/media/2015/04/richard-ross-photos-girls-justice-juvenile-prisons

The book is available for sale here: http://www.juvenile-in-justice.com/shop/girls-in-justice

 

Sunday’s Children and the Law News Roundup

Michigan appeals court rules that juveniles serving mandatory life for murder won’t be freed, Detroit Free Press, Michigan

The Michigan appeals court has ruled a landmark U.S. Supreme Court decision that ends mandatory life without parole sentences for juveniles convicted of murder will not apply retroactively to teens already found guilty who have exhausted their direct appeals. That means 358 Michigan prisoners serving mandatory life sentences without parole for murders committed when they were under 18 will remain behind bars. Michigan ranks second in the country in terms of juvenile lifers…

Elementary Schoolers’ Arrests In Florida Alarm Justice Officials , The Huffington Post, The Orlando Sentinel, Florida

The spate of arrests, which includes at least nine felony charges, has alarmed Orange County’s juvenile-justice community and prompted a judge to meet with the school’s principal.
It is “ridiculous” to criminalize students for behavior that is tied to their disabilities, said Olga Telleria-Khoudmi, juvenile-division chief for the Orange/Osceola Public Defender’s Office.

Preventing the Tragedy of LGBT Youth Homelessness, Juvenile Justice Blog

One of the largest populations of homeless youth is composed of LGBT teens who have come out to their families and are then disowned and forced to leave. While 1.7 million adolescents experience at least one episode of homelessness a year, between 20-to-40 percent of that population identify as LGBT.