WASHINGTON, D.C. — Having school resource officers (SROs) and other police in schools causes more harm than good. According to Education Under Arrest: The Case Against Police in Schools, a report released today by the Justice Policy Institute (JPI), when schools have law enforcement on site, students are more likely to get arrested by police instead of having discipline handled by school officials. This leads to more kids being funneled into the juvenile justice system, which is both expensive and associated with a host of negative impacts on youth. With federal funds being cut for policing and local budgets tight, author and JPI Associate Director Amanda Petteruti stated that “schools would be better served by using scarce resources for programs and personnel that will have a long-term positive impact on both school safety and student outcomes.”

The report compiles information and data showing that school resource officers needlessly drive up arrests for behavior issues that can, and should, be dealt with inside the school. For example, in Birmingham, Alabama, 96 percent of juvenile court referrals for students were for misdemeanor offenses or minor violations. A study of sample schools with and without SROs found that schools with an SRO had nearly five times the rate of arrests for disorderly conduct as schools without an SRO.

“Students are needlessly arrested for offenses as minor as disorderly conduct, which can include swearing at a teacher or throwing spitballs,” noted Petteruti. “SROs lead to discipline applied without the filter of school administrators or policies. This in turn leads to a troubling disruption of the educational process through suspension and expulsion, the result of which is some students who never become re-connected to school.”

Unnecessarily arresting students is counterproductive to the education of our nation’s youth. High school students who come in contact with the courts are more likely to drop out. Two-thirds to three-fourths of youth who were confined in a juvenile justice facility withdrew or dropped out within a year of re-enrolling; after four years, less than 15 percent of these youth had completed their secondary education.

The report also notes that from 2004 to 2007, the number of school resource officers (SROs) in schools has declined 8.9 percent, while the rate of student-reported crime dropped from 73 per 1,000 in 2003 to 57 per 1,000 in 2007. This suggests both that communities are beginning to question the value of SROs, and that school safety can be improved without over-criminalizing student misbehavior.

“Our schools should be committed to educating our children and preparing them for the future,” said Jim Freeman, senior attorney at Advancement Project, a next generation civil rights organization focused on issues of democracy and race. “When we choose SROs and police over guidance counselors and teachers, we send a powerful message to students that we are not invested in their success. And when we handle discipline in the police station instead of inside schools, too often we send our children onto a downward spiral and burden them with a lifetime of barriers to employment, education, and housing.”

Police in schools also can create an environment that makes learning difficult and, in some cases, SROs have created the violence that they are supposed to prevent. Additionally, SROs and harsh, zero-tolerance policies are more likely to affect youth of color and youth with disabilities. That schools face funding cuts if they do not meet annual yearly progress on tests is incentivizing pushing out struggling students.

Education Under Arrest also recommends investing in schools and implementing practices like Positive Behavioral Interventions and Supports and Social and Emotional Learning; these result in better outcomes without negative effects of SROs such as unnecessary arrests and involvement in the juvenile justice system.

“We all want our kids, and their teachers, to be safe at school,” stated Tracy Velázquez, Executive Director of JPI. “But we are coming to find out that police in schools are not the way to create an environment that is both safe and conducive to learning. Instead, we need to use evidence-based programs and create schools with high levels of structure and support by caring adults such as teachers, counselors and administrators, and work to meet the needs of all students. In this way, we can keep kids out of the courtroom and in the classroom, where they belong.”

To read the full report and executive summary of Education Under Arrest, CLICK HERE. For additional information, please contact Zerline Hughes at (202) 558-7974 x308 or [email protected]. For more JPI reports on the juvenile justice system and police funding, please visit our website at www.justicepolicy.org

The Justice Policy Institute, based in Washington, DC, is working to reduce the use of incarceration and the justice system and promote policies that improve the well-being of all people and communities. For more information, please visit www.justicepolicy.org.