Since I have arrived in the USA many of the organisations I have met with have been talking about the ‘school to prison pipeline’ when I realized that what was being discussed was how schools have become a pipeline into the criminal justice system it resonated with what we see in the UK.
We have discussed in Just for Kids Law how the presence of police in schools can escalate behaviour that would historically have been considered disciplinary into the criminal.
Most of the UK school heads that I have spoken to like the presence of a police officer in school; they believe it makes the community feel safe and builds good relationships between the police and young people. But for me this is not the whole picture. There is not a single private school, that I am aware of, that has its own police officer on the premises. I guarantee that if it was a good thing they too would be looking to bring that service into the schools. I suspect that private schools do not have a police presence partially because they rely on the money of parents who choose that school, reputation is therefore important and arrests of students would not look good for prospective parents but also to protect their students from criminal investigation the process of which is traumatic and the outcome a hindrance to future possibilities rather than an asset. I am sure private schools try and avoid any police investigation unless absolutely necessary. What I do not believe is that the kids in the private schools are not doing the kinds of things that we can see ending up in criminal investigations in state schools; naked selfies, cannabis. Whether inadvertently or not we are creating a segregated society where those who are rich can pay to shield their children from an entry point into the criminal justice system.
Don’t all kids deserve to be protected from criminal investigations unless it is absolutely necessary?
I am reminded of the case that was in the press earlier this autumn, the 14 year old boy who sent a naked photograph of himself to another teenager – he has a police recording against him because he sent a picture of his own body. The law that was designed to protect children is now being used against them giving him an unnecessary hurdle in his future.
This kind of work is one of the main focus areas of Appleseed in Austin Texas https://www.texasappleseed.org/. Their research shows that in the 1990’s society became afraid of children, the media began developing the idea of the ‘super-predator youth’, young people out of control, no respect, no one living by the rules. Now youth crime is falling but the response has not. The role of police in society is to prevent crime and solve crime, their roles in school the same. As I heard a judge here say ‘people find what they are looking for’ police look for crimes, it is their job but a push in the playground can either be dealt with internally or it can be an assault, the lens that you see it through depends on who you are.
Many parents, teachers and children have been convinced that police in schools make them safer places but the research shows otherwise. So how can we begin to change the perception? Partly it must be through having the conversation and looking at the evidence and exploring; or ideas like the small innovative parents and young people coalitions being set up who have negotiated oversight of the school’s discipline – an example is Padros and Jovenes Unidos in Colorado http://padresunidos.org/.
Another idea that has had great success in schools are restorative justice models such as the one run by the National Council on Crime and Delinquency
Pilot schemes have been working in schools on offences ranging from sexual assaults to bullying. There are no police involved, parents or carers of both young people attend and the young people themselves. When there have been group fights these become circles. Everyone agrees a way forward together. There is no need for the police or the criminal justice system yet everyone leaves with a sense of justice being done.
Last week shocking footage was released of a teenage girl in North Carolina being dragged out of a classroom by a sheriff. http://www.theguardian.com/us-news/video/2015/oct/27/sheriffs-deputy-south-carolina-spring-valley-high-school-student-classroom-arrest-video .
That sheriff has now lost his job, but if the incident hadn’t been caught on camera he may well still be in post. I still can’t shake the image that was shown to me by our education and community care team at Just for Kids Law of a 5 year old child in one of our London primary schools cowering against the wall when the head teacher called the police to deal with a discipline situation.
I understand that there is a role for police in society but maybe we don’t need them in our schools to keep our children safe or to learn from their mistakes.