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Study of Zero Tolerance Policies in Schools: A Multi-Integrated Systems Approach to Improve Outcomes for Adolescents

NCJ Number
Journal of child and Adolescent Psychiatric Nursing Volume: 24 Issue: 2 Dated: May 2011 Pages: 88-97
Steve C. Teske, M.A., J.D.
Date Published
May 2011
10 pages
This study examined the effect of zero tolerance school policies on student outcomes.
The study examined the effect of zero tolerance school disciplinary policies on student outcomes in Clayton County, GA. Key findings from the study include the following: from the time police were placed on middle and high school campuses in the mid-1990s to 2004, the number of students referred to the juvenile justice system increased approximately 1,248 percent; most of the referrals were for misdemeanor offenses that would have previously been handled with school disciplinary measures; during the same time period, the number of out-of-school suspensions increased while graduation rates decreased to 58 percent by 2003; and the increase in the number of cases referred to the juvenile justice system resulted in an increase in the number of caseloads being handled by probation officers. Several things occurred as a result of the increase in probation caseloads. Since the majority of cases handled by probation officers were for minor and misdemeanor offenses, the more serious cases involving high-risk offenders did not receive adequate attention, leaving serious offenders at a higher risk for recidivism. The increased in recidivism rates and decrease in graduation rates seriously compromised public safety. As a result, the school system instituted a School Referral Reduction Protocol that led to a decrease in referrals to the court of 67.4 percent, a decrease in the number of students detained on school offenses, a decrease in the number of youth of color referred to the court on school offenses, and a reduction in the number of incidents involving a serious weapon on campus. Implementation of the protocol also led to a gradual increase in graduation rates. These findings indicate that the overuse of school disciplinary policies has a significant impact on graduation rates and that they are counterproductive in promoting school and community safety. Implications for policymakers are discussed. References and appendix