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.

Anti-Prostitution Laws are Hurting Juveniles

The movement to decriminalize sex work has been pushed by sex workers for decades and has gained national popularity in criminal justice discussions. Decriminalizing sex work would halt arrests and charges for prostitution. While this may not seem like a juvenile justice issue, there is a small but significant group who have been impacted by anti sex work laws: juveniles arrested for prostitution.

The Trafficking Victims Protection Act defines sex trafficking as recruiting, patronizing, or otherwise causing a person under 18 years old to participate in a commercial sex act.[1] Most states have statutory rape laws which state a person under a certain age cannot consent to sex with an adult. In Texas, for example, an adult cannot engage in sexual contact with a person under 17 years old.[2] These laws indicate a general consensus that minors cannot consent to sex work or sex with adults. If that is the case, the 290 children aged 0-17 who were arrested in 2019 for prostitution should have been treated as victims instead of criminals.[3]

The interception of child trafficking victims and criminal prostitution laws can be seen in the 2010 Texas case In re B.W. This case involved a 13 year old girl who was arrested for prostitution in Texas.[4] The offense was filed in adult criminal court, where it was discovered the arrestee was a child. [5] The prostitution charge was then dismissed, but B.W.’s involvement with the justice system was not over. The charges were transferred to juvenile court, where B.W. pleaded true to the allegation, which is the equivalent of pleading guilty in adult court, and was sentenced to 18 months probation.[6]

On appeal, the Supreme Court of Texas ruled that because the legislature has determined children under 14 do not have the mental capacity to consent to sex with anyone, they are exempt from prostitution charges. [7] This was a win for B.W. and child sex trafficking victims all over Texas, but the impact of criminalization was already felt. B.W. had already been subjected to arrest and booking in adult court. In re B.W. protects juveniles who are 14 or younger, but leaves other teenagers in Texas age 15-16 vulnerable to prostitution charges and arrests. There is not clear data on how many 15 and 16 year olds have been arrested for prostitution in Texas since In re B.W., but Texas makes up part of the 290 total arrests, indicating there have been some. Not all arrests lead to charges, but all arrests traumatize the children who are subject to them.

The effects of arrest on juveniles cannot be taken lightly. Youth who have been arrested are much less likely than their peers to graduate high school or enroll in college.[8] A child who is arrested and is then confined at a juvenile detention facility is virtually guaranteed to not finish their high school education.[9] Young people without a high school degree will face more difficulties finding stability and employment.[10] High school dropouts may face an increased risk of grooming by sex traffickers because they are not around teachers who recognize the signs and can refer the student to school counseling or other services.

Criminalization of sex work is causing lifelong effects in vulnerable juveniles. While full decriminalization of sex work may not be popular in every state, laws preventing minors from being charged with prostitution would go a long way in protecting the country’s youth.


[1] 18 U.S.C. § 1591
[2] Tex. Penal Code §21.11
[3] Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, https://www.ojjdp.gov/ojstatbb/crime/ucr.asp?table_in=1
[4] In re B.W., 313 S.W.3d 818
[5]Id.
[6] ​​Id.
[7] Id.
[8] David S. Kirk & Robert J. Sampson, Juvenile Arrest and Collateral Education Damage in the Transition to Adulthood, 36, 47 (American Psychological Association 2013).
[9] Id at 55
[10] Id.

COVID-19 and Child Poverty: How a Pandemic Showed Us We Have a Choice

Over the course of the global COVID-19 pandemic, the rate of child poverty in the United States has fallen dramatically “from 14.2% in 2018 to less than 5.6% in 2021” with severe poverty cutting almost in half.[1] In fact, the 2020 child poverty rates in the United States were the lowest they have been since the 1960s when the US Census Bureau began measuring child poverty rates.[2]

The decrease in child poverty is due to the government’s expansion “of the social safety net,” including the “child tax credit and funding for food.”[3] The child tax credit alone decreased child poverty by approximately 40 percent after providing families with monthly checks to cover basic necessities.[4] In addition to the child tax credit, “other safety-net expansions” provided during the pandemic included “three stimulus checks, a moratorium on evictions, increased unemployment benefits and more funding for food, through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and housing.”[5] According to research, if these safety-net options were not provided, approximately one out of three children in the United States “would be living in poverty.”[6]

However, experts warn that permitting these “measures to expire may” result in child poverty rates increasing once again.[7] The child tax credit already expired in January 2022, resulting in 3.7 million more children in poverty, “a 41% increase from December.”[8] Families who previously used the child tax credit to cover basic necessities are struggling to provide their families with “food, pay rent and keep the lights on,” especially because prices continue to rise.[9]

Not only is alleviating poverty the right thing to do, but there are also economic benefits for reducing the rate of child poverty.[10] In fact, the National Academy of Sciences found that “child poverty costs the US between $800bn and $1.1tn each year” due to “lost adult productivity and the increased cost of health and criminal justice spending.”[11]

The safety-net expansions implemented during the pandemic demonstrate how allowing children to remain in poverty is a choice and how we know some ways to end child poverty.[12] Now, it is time to implement policies to end child poverty once and for all.


[1] Melody Schreiber, Child poverty will rise if US withdraws COVID-era benefits, experts warn, Guardian (Mar. 17, 2022) https://www.theguardian.com/us-news/2022/mar/17/us-child-poverty-rate-welfare-measures-expire-experts.

[2] Id.

[3] Id.

[4] Id.

[5] Id.

[6] Id.

[7] Id.

[8] Id.

[9] Id.

[10] Id.

[11] Id.

[12] Id.