Arrested Futures


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Summary

This report, "Arrested Futures: The Criminalization of School Discipline in Massachusetts' Three Largest School Districts," breaks new ground by examining school-based arrests in Boston, Springfield, and Worcester to see which students are being arrested and why. The data shows that a large percentage of school-based arrests are for minor, disruptive behavior--"public order offenses"--the type of behavior that is not generally considered criminal and could be better addressed by school administrators. This Massachusetts study bears out the findings of national research:

• using arrest for issues more appropriately handled by school administrators harms students and is detrimental to school culture;
• the growing number of police in schools has fed the "school-to-prison pipeline" without necessarily making schools safer;
• students of color and students with disabilities are being disproportionately subjected to school-based arrests.

Findings

• Each of the districts studied in the report has a higher percentage of students of color, of students with limited proficiency in English, of low income and special needs students than the statewide average. And each of the districts has a different model of how police are deployed in schools.

• Only in Springfield are there armed uniformed police stationed permanently in the schools at considerable expense. (In Boston there are "school safety officers"-- who are not armed--stationed in 33 schools and a plainclothes but armed BPD School Police Unit that works with the safety officers in designated areas. Worcester has no uniformed officers permanently stationed in its schools).

• Springfield has the highest overall arrest rate. In Springfield's schools, teachers and administrators often rely on police to maintain order in classrooms, the hallways and lunchrooms. Students as young as 11 have been arrested for showing disrespect to authority figures and for "acting out" in ways that may be disruptive (banging on lockers, throwing a cheeseburger or snowball, using the "f" word) but are not usually regarded as criminal.

• In Boston and Springfield, schools with high arrest rates for "public order offenses" include several that serve students with emotional, behavioral or learning difficulties, raising serious questions about how these schools are being run.

• Worcester, which has no permanent school-based police, had a significantly lower student arrest rate, although there too students have been arrested for misbehavior more appropriately dealt with by school staff.


Recommendations

• Because arrest is not an acceptable method for dealing with disruptive students, districts should ensure that calling upon police officers with the power to arrest is always a last resort.

• If police are deployed in schools, they must be properly trained in how to work with adolescents and there must be clearly delineated responsibilities to ensure that school staff are responsible for discipline.

• Money now spent on in-school police should be reallocated to schools to give them the flexibility to develop in-school alternatives to address student misbehavior.

• School districts must collect and make public comprehensive statistical data about school-based arrests.

• The clearly disproportionate use of arrest against youth of color and students attending therapeutic schools must be immediately addressed.

Media

5.2.12

Policing in schools reviewed by ACLU
Worcester Telegram

Study: Springfield students arrested at much higher rate than in Boston, Worcester
Springfield Republican

Advocates find three cities overuse arrests at schools
Boston Globe