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This Week in PubHub: Children and Youth: Juvenile Justice

September 30, 2011

(Kyoko Uchida manages PubHub, the Foundation Center's online catalog of foundation-sponsored publications. In her previous post, she looked at four reports that examine how well the rapidly evolving news business is serving local communities.)

After nearly twenty years of widespread "zero tolerance" school discipline policies, questions are being raised not only about their effectiveness but about their fairness and long-term effects. This week in PubHub, we are featuring four reports that explore how school discipline policies affect students' academic performance and involvement with the juvenile justice system, as well as efforts to reform that system.

According to Breaking Schools' Rules: A Statewide Study on How School Discipline Relates to Students' Success and Juvenile Justice Involvement (124 pages, PDF), a report from the Council of State Governments Justice Center and the Public Policy Research Institute at Texas A&M University, suspending or expelling students for disciplinary reasons increases the likelihood of their failing academically and/or becoming involved with the juvenile justice system. Funded by Atlantic Philanthropies and the Open Society Foundations, the report found that 54 percent of students in the state were suspended or expelled at least once between seventh and twelfth grade, with students of color and those with specific educational disabilities disproportionately at higher risk. The report also found that students who had been suspended or expelled were nearly three times more likely to come into contact with the juvenile justice system during the subsequent academic year, that 31 percent of those who were disciplined repeatedly were held back a grade, and that 10 percent of those who were disciplined repeatedly dropped out.

Suspended Education: Urban Middle Schools in Crisis (25 pages, PDF), a 2010 report from the Civil Rights Project, also argues that frequent suspensions and expulsions do not contribute to better school safety or student behavior but instead reduce opportunities for academic success and increase the risk of incarceration. The report examines the widening race and gender "discipline gaps," finding that while K-12 suspension rates for all students nearly doubled, from 3.7 percent to 6.9 percent, between 1973 and 2006, the 2006 suspension rate for African-American middle school boys was 28.3 percent. Indeed, with such policies resulting in minority students being separated from opportunities to learn at a disproportionately higher rate and facing greater risk of incarceration than their white peers, the issue is as serious a problem as low test scores and high dropout rates, the authors argue. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation and the Poverty and Race Research Action Council, the report offers a number of recommendations, including better data collection and analysis, providing alternative strategies and technical assistance to schools with high suspension rates, and taking measures to address unlawful discrimination in the use of suspensions and expulsions.

When students do get into trouble with the law, they often are tried as adults -- with negative consequences for the community (not to mention the students themselves) in terms of both public safety and economic prosperity. The Campaign for Youth Justice report State Trends: Legislative Victories From 2005 to 2010 Removing Youth From the Adult Criminal Justice System (52 pages, PDF) examines the unfairness of trying teenagers in the adult criminal justice system (where they are often housed in adult jails and prisons) given their still-developing brains and the (usually) minor nature of their offenses; the grave consequences (including higher recidivism rates and lifelong barriers to employment); and the social implications of a disproportionately high rate of minority youth being tried as adults. The authors also highlight encouraging trends at the state and local level, including raising the age of juvenile court jurisdiction, changing transfer laws, and revising youth sentencing laws. The report was funded by the Casey, Eckerd Family, Meyer, Falk, Ford, JEHT, MacArthur, Public Welfare, Tow, and Open Society foundations; Atlantic Philanthropies; the  California Endowment; the Fund for Nonviolence; the Moriah, Rockit, and Chasdrew funds; the Carter & Melissa Cafritz Trust; Covington and Burling LLP; DHO Consulting, Gladys Jensen; and Julie Jensen.

The JustPartners report Bridges to Manhood: A Multifaceted Probation Strategy That Incorporates Fatherhood Development (28 pages, PDF) addresses a different issue: how to help young men complete their probation while learning to become responsible fathers and family members. Funded by the Annie E. Casey Foundation, the report argues that because many young men who go through the juvenile justice system have either no relationship or a damaged relationship with their fathers, helping them become better fathers can help prevent recidivism and may contribute to breaking the negative intergenerational cycle of father absence.

What do you think? Are school disciplinary actions counterproductive? Are racial/ethnic disparities in suspensions and juvenile justice involvement indicative of a larger problem? Do you know of any programs that have been effective in addressing those disparities? Use the comments section to share your thoughts.

And be sure to check out PubHub, where where you can browse more than 765 reports on topics related to children and youth.

-- Kyoko Uchida

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Posted by Carolin Newmeyer  |   January 09, 2012 at 10:43 AM

Suspensions and expulsion do not contribute to the improvement of school safety and student behavior since it just might trigger even worse behavior from the student. Those factors aside, responsible parenting still needs to be reinforced in every home. After all, child rearing starts at home and nowhere else. :)

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