Talking Versus Force: Punishing Delinquent Kids Doesn’t Work

Student truancy, inter-peer conflict and other anti-social behaviors are part of all primary education systems. Though few will disagree that this kind of behavior, though expected, is desirable, in the United States schools have increasingly turned to law enforcement to deal with misbehaving students. This trend has exploded and along with it, in what should be a surprise to no one, instances of questionable uses of police force have as well.

Such situations are sadly not lacking in frequency and shock value. This past October, a school officer in Columbia, S.C., gained national attention after being filmed flipping a female high school student on her back and then harshly dragging her across the floor. Just two weeks later, a 13-year-old student in Kissimmee, Fla., was thrown to the ground by a school cop, suffering ankle and wrist sprains.

In Kenton County, Ky., a resource officer was caught in several videos handcuffing an 8-year-old boy and a 9-year-old girl, both both of whom possess attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, for refusing to sit down. The boy also has post-traumatic stress disorder.

These might seem like extreme examples, perhaps rare occurrences, but that’s debatable. With at least 28 students being seriously injured and one death over the past half decade, there is clearly a problem. Arguably, much of it is rooted in how school resource officers are trained and how they are taught to deal with conflict and confrontation.

As The Atlantic details, of the estimated 19,000 school officers in the United States, specialized training is only required in 12 states. Without such training, these officers are only equipped with tools designed to deal with full-grown, potentially dangerous adults — not elementary or high school-aged children.

Fortunately, some of this has begun to change. The Los Angeles Unified school district, which consists of 405 police officers and 125 safety officers, is the largest single independent school police force in the nation, according to the L.A. Times. Since 2014, new programs there have gone into place to redefine how resource officers deal with students.

Rather than ticket or arrest students for first-time offences, like truancy or minor battery, most are directed toward counseling instead. Those who put these new programs in motion say that roughly 460 students were redirected instead of cited; only 7 percent did not follow through on their counseling.

There is more to these new programs being used by the L.A. United school district than swapping suspensions for counselling sessions. Student resource officers are being trained to deal with students not only as individuals but as individuals with still-forming brains (and as such, possess limited reasoning abilities) that merit respect and a friendly adult’s ear.

What makes L.A. United school district’s program so special? It gives minors an opportunity to find a route away from what criminology calls “secondary deviance.”

Secondary deviance theory, in a nut shell, suggests that anti-social behavior and delinquency aren’t simple, random behaviors. Rather, if they are to become a pattern, an individual must come to identify as an anti-social, delinquent person. How does this happen? Secondary deviance argues that while most of us will, at one time or another, do something at least quasi-criminal, most won’t immediately begin to identify as a criminal.

Rather, it is in the act of being caught or even in just being accused of doing something criminal that a criminal identity begins to form. And when it comes to young, developing minds and personalities, the effects of secondary deviance can negatively shape the rest of a minor’s life.

Findings show that punishing students helps cement this identity in a “school-to-prison” pipeline; students who get in trouble in school are more likely to tangle with law enforcement later in life. This is reinforced by the fact that by age 23, as many as two in five Americans have been arrested. Of those who have spent time in a juvenile prison, more than 90 percent find themselves struggling to form a normal life afterward while one-fifth could not even function on a daily basis. And, in general, most of these individuals are more likely to live a shortened life.

Punishing young adults in this way clearly isn’t working. But what is clear is that all school resource officer programs need to have mandated specialty training — and perhaps, in general, to see their presence in schools pared down and supplanted with councilors, rather than law enforcement, specialized in helping troubled youth.

Photo Credit: Leah-Anne Thompson / Thinkstock

42 comments

Sierra B.
Sierra B2 years ago

iT REALLY DOESNT

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Siyus Copetallus
Siyus Copetallus2 years ago

Thank you for sharing.

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Kathryn Irby
Past Member 2 years ago

Talking is the only answer for delinquent children because they are already rebellious, and punishment would only make them rebel that much more. Dialogue would make they feel that they are cared about, and their thoughts and questions matter. Thank you for sharing.

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Will Rogers
Will Rogers2 years ago

Cops have no place in schools, this terrorism of children needs to stop now! But I can understand why! It's because guns have become so normalised. Your 2nd amendment gun rights is the cause and the problem, your country is out of control and your love of violence and guns have clouded your judgements, get with the modern world! Teach them not terrorise them! Once again America shows it's stupidity. If they didn't have the biggest and most aggressive army in the world they would surely be the subject of sanctions for their daily human and civil rights abuses.

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Fi T.
Past Member 2 years ago

The only form of effective correction

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Roberto M.
Past Member 2 years ago

THANKS

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Roberto M.
Past Member 2 years ago

THANKS

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Roberto M.
Past Member 2 years ago

THANKS

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Roberto M.
Past Member 2 years ago

THANKS

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Sue H.
Sue H2 years ago

Mandated speciality training across the nation would be a very good thing.

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