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Excerpted From: Rainét N. Spence, Saved by the Bell: Reclaiming Home Court Advantage for At-risk Youth Funneled into the School-to-Prison Pipeline, 58 Family Court Review 227 (January 2020) (Student Note) (297 Footnotes) (Full Document)

RainétSpenceIn the face of zero-tolerance policies, fourteen-year old Kyle Thompson was forced to grow up quickly. On March 2013, Kyle was placed under house arrest, instructed to refrain from participating in school activities and contacting his friends. Kyle did not engage in a criminal activity that would warrant an arrest, but engaged in a playful encounter of tug-of-war that consequently branded him a delinquent. During class, a classmate grabbed a note from Kyle's notebook, titled "Hit List." The teacher took the note from Kyle, and in a teasingly back-and-forth manner, proceeded to gain control over the note. The teacher laughed; Kyle laughed; even classmates laughed, but when Kyle realized the encounter was turning serious, he handed over the note. The teacher left the classroom and moments later, Kyle was escorted to the principal's office. Within a split second, Kyle was placed under arrest and taken to the police station, not for the contents of the note, but for allegedly assaulting the teacher. The purpose of educational institutions is to provide resources for all children, whether they are well-mannered or misbehaving. Students labeled as delinquents need more resources from schools than others. Yet, schools are gradually becoming a pipeline to the juvenile justice system. Kyle's typical freshman behavior tarnished what respectable reputation he had and stigmatized him as a criminal for the rest of his life. Kyle's minor infraction was trumped up to a criminal status, despite the statements given by classmates corroborating his story and his clean school record. This is the result of zero-tolerance policies implemented in Farmington Hill's high schools. Envision a group of individuals in an institution where they all follow the same routine schedule. The individuals attend the same meetings and social events together. At any moment when someone steps out of line, the individuals are separated from the general population. Speaking to a higher authority to diffuse the situation is not an option, instead these individuals are branded as repeat offenders. Now, imagine this as the structure of schools that implemented zero-tolerance policies, which played a hand in the school-to-prison pipeline. The school-to-prison pipeline directly or indirectly tracks students into the juvenile justice system by punishing them for minor offenses. This is a real epidemic plaguing schools across the nation. The implementation of zero-tolerance policies in schools blurs the lines between routine disciplinary infractions and the juvenile justice system. While the policy's aim is to preserve the integrity of school systems by removing delinquent students, there is a lack of evidence that zero-tolerance policies create a conducive learning environment. Instead, such policies are particularly affecting students of color. African American students face suspension and expulsion three times more than Caucasian students. Students are no longer looking at traditional means of punishment, but instead are stripped of educational opportunities.

This Note proposes a model statute requiring states with a high criminal delinquency rate, to implement youth courts in public high schools. The proposed statute would shift responsibility back onto schools, where they will host court sessions for at-risk students. Many states, including New York, have proposed state legislation to decrease the number of students funneled into the school-to-prison pipeline.

Part II of this Note discusses the history of the school-to-prison pipeline and how the war on drugs led to the enactment of zero-tolerance policies in public schools. This part will elaborate on specific zero-tolerance policies for specific schools.

Part III outlines the negative impact of zero-tolerance policies by exploring the presence of police and disparities among race and disabled students. This part explains some programs that were implemented on the basis of increasing the school-police presence.

Part IV explains the significance of community-based youth courts, along with legislative support.

Part V proposes an alternative to the traditional juvenile justice system.

Part VI is a model statute specifically implementing school-based youth courts.

Part VII will address counterarguments that may arise regarding funding for youth courts, along with success rates of these newly implemented school-based youth courts. These counterarguments may entail pushback from educators and community leaders.

Part VIII of this Note will conclude by summarizing the benefits of a model statute mandating school-based youth courts in high schools.

[. . .]

School-based youth courts are potentially a powerful system for teachers, administrators, resource officers, and most importantly for students who are searching for an alternative path for disciplinary sanctions. Enforcing a legislative act for the School-Based Youth Court Program would force educators and students to remain accountable for the role they play in a student's misconduct. Students and educators would no longer sweep minor offenses into the juvenile justice system and instead confront the impact of their misconduct. Therefore, a law such as the School-Based Youth Court Program is integral to keeping students in the classroom and keeping them from the grips of the school-to-prison pipeline.

Rainét N. Spence hails from Queens, New York with an ethnic background from Trinidad and Tobago.

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