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Making Schools Safer and/or Creating a Pipeline to Prison: A Study of North Carolina Schools

NCJ Number
Lucy Sorensen; Shawn Bushway
Date Published
June 2021

The primary objective of this research was to determine if policy choices by schools impact rates of in-school violence and/or influence rates of conviction and incarceration.


The main objective of this project was to identify if different policy choices by schools causally decrease rates of in-school violence in the short term and/or increase rates of conviction and incarceration in the long term, as well as identifying associated impacts on other outcomes, such as student disciplinary consequences and educational achievement and attainment. Three primary research questions were addressed in the context of North Carolina public middle schools: 1. What are the effects of the presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) on short-term outcomes, such as school safety and student disciplinary incidents, and long-term outcomes, such as high school graduation and involvement with the juvenile or adult criminal justice systems? 2. What is the effect of having a middle school principal with stricter or more lenient disciplinary practices on short- and long-term student outcomes? 3. How do the effects of SROs or school principal disciplinary practices vary by school context and student characteristics, including the race or ethnicity of the student? Summary findings from this study conclude that: 1. The presence of SROs in middle schools reduces serious violence, increases law enforcement referrals, and increases long-term suspensions or expulsions; however, has no effect on weapon possession, alcohol or drug possession, test scores, or long-term outcomes of adult conviction and educational attainment. 2. Harsher disciplinary decisions made under the discretion of principals increases the rate of out-of-school suspension and expulsion for students who commit minor offenses, increases the likelihood of juvenile justice referrals for students who commit more serious offenses, and yield small deterrent effects on misconduct; however, have no effect on serious crime. 3. School principals have wider-reaching impacts on disciplinary, criminal, and educational outcomes of students than SROs; exclusionary disciplinary practices within schools yield long-lasting adverse consequences; and policing and discipline have unequal effects on students of different racial and ethnic backgrounds.