Finding 5: More than one in seven students were in contact with the juvenile justice system between seventh and twelfth grade. Students who were suspended or expelled had a greater likelihood of contact with the juvenile justice system in their middle or high school years, particularly when they were disciplined multiple times.
Many people would believe that a child that cannot behave in school is more likely to have contact with the juvenile justice system than a child who conforms in the academic environment. What this study has determined is that this link between discipline and delinquency is quite complex when the goal of school discipline is outlined. The fundamental goal of school discipline is to increase compliance and prevent additional rule breaking which in turn would decrease the chance a child would interact with the juvenile justice system. What the study found was that when a student was suspended or expelled for a discretionary school disciplinary violation, this action nearly tripled (2.85 times) the likelihood of juvenile justice contact in the subsequent school year. Each additional disciplinary encounter increased the likelihood even more. In essence the fundamental goal of discretionary school discipline is not being met. In fact it is having the opposite effect. In light of this, school and juvenile justice professionals have an invested interest in determining what needs to change and what interventions need to be in place to decrease noncompliance of school rules and decrease movement into the juvenile justice system.
Finding 6: Schools that had similar student populations and were alike in other important regards varied significantly in how often they suspended or expelled pupils.
With the implications of school discipline being a concern to juvenile justice and negatively impacting the lives of thousands of children, this finding is the most disturbing of all. Schools are not reacting the same to common challenges and the discipline meted out can be very different regardless of the similarities in student and environmental characteristics. Essentially, how and when a student is disciplined depends on what school they attend. Even schools within districts were found to have very different disciplinary rates. The study also found that schools that rely heavily on the use of suspension and expulsion did not achieve better academic outcomes overall.
What the “Breaking Schools’ Rules” study found is that school administrators have an incredible amount of power to change the course of a child’s future and impact the juvenile justice system. The decision to suspend or expel a child based on arbitrary, locally-agreed upon school Codes of Conduct have enormous consequences. This study also shows that the desired outcome of disciplinary actions, i.e. less rule breaking and more conformity, is not occurring. Due to this, we as professionals in the juvenile justice realm, especially those working in the schools, need to work closely with academic professionals to determine what interventions we need to be using to have positive outcomes on our children and consequently our communities. If we do not want to continue the trend of drop-outs and juvenile justice contact, we need to relook at our school disciplinary policies. If it’s not working, we need to do something different. Our children’s futures depend on it.