Tough school discipline codes like zero-tolerance policies often result in mandatory suspensions, expulsion or arrest, often for non-violent offenses that could be dealt with in the school, robbing students of classroom time, needed interventions and mentorship, all while disproportionately impacting black, Hispanic and special education students. Students who are suspended even once are more likely to drop out, and young people who drop out of high school are more than 8 times as likely to be incarcerated as those who graduate. The U.S. Department of Education has issued new guidelines advising schools on steps to avoid discriminatory policies and reinforce positive behavior over tactics that drive students out of school. Additional information is in the links below. Next time, I’ll report on success stories in Chicago — schools that have dramatically reduced suspensions and drop out rates through effective restorative justice programming and support.
Most children in contact with the juvenile justice system meet the criteria for mental disorders, but few receive the help that could vastly improve their prospects for attaining productive lives. The MacArthur Foundation and the Substantive Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration are collaborating on an effort to break the path from mental disorder to the juvenile justice system. Up to five states will be selected competitively to participate in a new initiative based on the states’ commitment to improving policies and programs, emphasizing the diversion of children with mental and substantive use disorders from the juvenile justice system, screening and assessment practices and increased collaboration among stakeholders to facilitate access to the most effective treatment and services. We’ll be watching for the results.
The United States Supreme Court, in decisions limiting sentences of life in prison without the possibility of parole for juvenile offenders, recognized what psychologists have long recognized and parent instinctively learn: the teenage brain is different. Young offenders are less mature and experienced, less able to exercise good judgment and self-restraint, more susceptible to peer pressure and environmental influence, and limited in their ability to assist in their own defense, as compared to adult offenders. They have demonstrated a greater capacity for rehabilitation than adults guilty of the same offense. Kids are categorically less culpable than adults. Despite the Supreme Court rulings, some state courts are now imposing near-certain lifelong sentences to child offenders (in comparison even mass murder Charles Manson has been eligible for many parole hearings, all denied). Below is a story of Shimeek Gridine and the sentencing decisions now being challenged.