When students are taken from the classroom to the jailhouse for behavior that used to be addressed through in-school discipline, their access to opportunity is drastically diminished. The report Arrested Futures: The Criminalization of School Discipline in Massachusetts' Three Largest School Districts examines school-based arrests in Boston, Springfield and Worcester and evaluates which students are being arrested and why.
The report, written by the ACLU of Massachusetts, the ACLU and the Citizens for Juvenile Justice, finds that a large percentage of school-based arrests are for "public order offenses"—conduct that might be disruptive or disrespectful, but that most people would never consider criminal. Consistent with other research, the report also finds that students of color and students with disabilities are disproportionately subjected to school-based arrests, and in particular to arrests based on disruptive behavior, not criminal activity.
These findings are an important addition to existing research examining the "school-to-prison pipeline," a troubling national trend, aggravated by increasing police presence in schools, in which children are funneled out of public schools and into the juvenile and criminal justice systems.
- Each of the districts studied in the report has a higher percentage of students of color, of students with limited proficiency in English, of low income and special needs students than the statewide average. And each of the districts has a different model of how police are deployed in schools.
- Only in Springfield are there armed uniformed police stationed permanently in the schools at considerable expense. (In Boston there are "school safety officers"—who are not armed—stationed in 33 schools and a plainclothes but armed BPD School Police Unit that works with the safety officers in designated areas. Worcester has no uniformed officers permanently stationed in its schools).
- Springfield has the highest overall arrest rate. In Springfield's schools, teachers and administrators often rely on police to maintain order in classrooms, the hallways and lunchrooms. Students as young as 11 have been arrested for showing disrespect to authority figures and for "acting out" in ways that may be disruptive (banging on lockers, throwing a cheeseburger or snowball, using the "f" word) but are not usually regarded as criminal.
- In Boston and Springfield, schools with high arrest rates for "public order offenses" include several that serve students with emotional, behavioral or learning difficulties, raising serious questions about how these schools are being run.
- Worcester, which has no permanent school-based police, had a significantly lower student arrest rate, although there too students have been arrested for misbehavior more appropriately dealt with by school staff.
- Because arrest is not an acceptable method for dealing with disruptive students, districts should ensure that calling upon police officers with the power to arrest is always a last resort.
- If police are deployed in schools, they must be properly trained in how to work with adolescents and there must be clearly delineated responsibilities to ensure that school staff are responsible for discipline.
- Money now spent on in-school police should be reallocated to schools to give them the flexibility to develop in-school alternatives to address student misbehavior.
- School districts must collect and make public comprehensive statistical data about school-based arrests.
- The clearly disproportionate use of arrest against youth of color and students attending therapeutic schools must be immediately addressed.
- Worcester Telegram: Worcester Police Department's role in city schools questioned
- Rahsaan Hall, director of the Racial Justice Program for the American Civil Liberties Union of Massachusetts: Students deserve equal justice in the classroom
- Worcester Telegram: Policing in schools reviewed by ACLU
- Springfield Republican: Study: Springfield students arrested at much higher rate than in Boston, Worcester
- Boston Globe: Advocates find three cities overuse arrests at schools
- New York Times: Schoolkids in Handcuffs