In Connecticut, you need a good reason to arrest a kid. That shouldn’t be any big surprise. But to advocates who’ve witnessed decades of increases in school-based arrests for things like dress code violations and running in the hallway, it’s huge.
Connecticut’s judicial branch is now rejecting delinquency summonses and status offender complaints unless “the facts, if true, would be sufficient to be a juvenile matter, and whether the interests of the public or the child require that further action be taken …” If Judicial’s Court Supportive Service Division [juvenile probation officers] rejects an arrest, the arresting officer and the youth’s parents will receive a letter informing them of services in the community that could more appropriately address the problem behavior.
The credit for this enlightened policy goes largely to Court Supportive Service Division Executive Director William Carbone, who has been a champion of good, evidence-based programming throughout his tenure. Carbone was shocked by the number of children who enter the juvenile justice system for things like possession of tobacco. (No kidding -- there was at least one school district in Connecticut that had kids arrested for that.)
The Connecticut Juvenile Justice Alliance has been shining a light on school-based arrests. We’re excited to be conducting forums around the state in cooperation with Connecticut Public Television to discuss CPTV’s original documentary, "Education vs. Incarceration the Real Cost of Failing Our Kids." We’re working with districts across Connecticut that are entering into agreements with their police departments to develop agreements about when arrest is – and isn’t – warranted in schools.
We’re seeing a growing recognition among policymakers like Bill Carbone and ordinary citizens that arrest should be an extraordinary event in a school – not a common disciplinary tool. We’ve made great strides. As always, however, there’s more work to be done. Teachers need better preparation in classroom management; administrators need support to transform their schools into places where a sense of community and mutual respect abounds; parents need opportunities to have meaningful involvement in their children’s education.
But we’re heartened by what we’ve seen already and delighted that the judicial branch has decided to let common sense play a role in how we enforce school discipline.
How does your state handle this issue? I'd love to hear any success stories -- please drop me an email or leave a comment below.
The above story is reprinted with permission from Reclaiming Futures, a national initiative working to improve alcohol and drug treatment outcomes for youth in the juvenile justice system.