North Carolina politicians and government officials are determined to tackle a serious problem plaguing schools statewide. Dubbed the “school-to-prison pipeline” by activists and commentators across the country, negative educational policies such as “zero-tolerance policies” can have a devastating impact on a child’s education and life, and government officials throughout our state are determined to do something about it.
A loose coalition of politicians including Chief Justice Cheri Beasley are actively encouraging changes to school policies that would be more positive for students. One of the most prominent suggestions is the implementation of judge-led “School Justice Partnerships” (SJPs).
These SJPs are community-driven groups made up of various stakeholders with the express purpose of keeping students in schools and out of court. Some of the stakeholders in these organizations include law enforcement officials, teachers and district attorneys. These stakeholders are all united in their understanding of the importance of combating overzealous arresting of minors.
According to NC Policy Watch, nearly 40 percent of referrals to the Juvenile Justice System stem from school-based offenses. Of these, many are actually from non-violent, minor offenses which could in all likelihood be resolved without burdening the court system. As recently as the 2016-2017 school year only eight percent of the school-based referrals were for serious offenses.
The impact of sending a child to the juvenile justice system can be lifelong. The Justice Policy Institute published a report by Barry Holman and Jason Ziedenberg which explored the impact of sending students to detention facilities. Among other things, it finds that detention can increase recidivism, pull students into the criminal justice system in a negative way and negatively impact the mental health of detainees, particularly in youth who already experience issues with mental illness.This report greatly stresses the importance of the work being done by North Carolina politicians and government officials, and in itself states that alternatives to detention are more effective at curbing crime and reducing recidivism.
Another politician who is working to combat overly aggressive policing in schools is Governor Roy Cooper. The governor is working to promote school safety and attended a press wconference wherein the efforts to create various SJPs were discussed on Monday, Aug. 12. One point made by Cooper at the press conference was to announce and promote an executive order he was decreeing to increase gun safety statewide. Others who were present at the conference included law enforcement officials and educators.
Throughout the state of North Carolina, various SJPs have already been established. Brunswick, Greene, Lenoir, Mecklenburg, New Hanover, Stanly, Wayne county and Whiteville City Schools all have SJPs. The results that those SJPs have obtained are encouraging with multiple areas reporting a decrease in referral rates as well as an increase in graduation rates, once enough time has passed.
The state of North Carolina is not the first to try and implement SJPs. The oldest SJP comes from Georgia and was established in 2004 in Clayton County.
Other suggested methods of fighting against the School-To-Prison-Pipeline include investment in School Resource Officers (SROs), alternative methods of holding students accountable for their actions and graduated discipline.