Booking Students: An Analysis of School Arrests and Court Outcomes

Wolf, Kerrin C. | October 1, 2013

The fate of school discipline and security in America is at a crucial turning point. While the “school-to-prison pipeline” has recently received an increased amount of attention from policy makers interested in improving public education, the recent shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Connecticut led to renewed calls for the heightened security measures that helped give rise to the pipeline. This article provides clear evidence that heightened disciplinary and security measures in schools are faulty policy responses, as they have adverse impacts on the students they intend to protect and siphon resources away from policies that more effectively ensure student safety and success. More specifically, the article analyzes a unique statewide database that contains all school arrests that occurred during a recent school year in Delaware, including individual-level variables such as age, race, gender, offense, adjudication result, and disposition result. The analysis reveals three troubling trends that have important policy implications. First, the use of arrests in response to student misbehavior has resulted in a great number of students being arrested for minor misbehaviors. Second, a highly disproportionate rate of black students faced arrests for their behavior in school, and female students seemed to experience differential treatment. Third, the juvenile justice system is forced to devote its scarce resources to processing a high volume of minor school arrests, a plurality of which lead to diversionary services that could have been offered directly through schools in a much more efficient manner.