Positive School Climate

Promoting Positive School Environments

In recent years, there has been an unprecedented increase in arrests for minor offenses that occur in schools. In fact, the connection between school discipline and the juvenile courts has become so close that it is coined, the “school-to-prison pipeline.”

The widespread implementation of zero tolerance policies have created this pipeline effect and funnel youth out of the school system and into the juvenile justice system. This pipeline impacts youth across lines of race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, disability, and socio-economic status, and leads to poor outcomes for schools, communities, and youth, ultimately denying education and emotional support to those who typically need it the most.

CJJ supports approaches to ending the school-to-prison pipeline that integrate the following principles:

Evidence-Based Approaches

There is now ample evidence to support the position that policies that take kids out of school lead to detrimental outcomes for them, their families, and communities. Any approach to stem the school-to-prison pipeline should take into account the best evidence we have of what works, including reducing referrals to the juvenile justice system, and for those youth referred, reduction in the use of out-of-home placement and an increase in community-based interventions that focus on addressing unmet needs.

Balancing Interests

CJJ supports approaches that balance needs for the fair administration of justice, community safety, and the health and well-being of youth who come into contact with the juvenile justice system. Our experience and evidence show that these interests are not at odds with one another. For instance, one key component of an improved approach is to eliminate school exclusion for disciplinary infractions – specifically long-term suspension and expulsion practices. In-school interventions and alternative services and support produce better outcomes and avert future problems. The National Coordinating Committee on School Health and Safety reported that suspension and expulsion lead to or worsen academic problems, delinquency, and substance abuse. They also noted that children most likely to be suspended are those who most need the assistance and supervision of professionals. Additionally, suspension or expulsion has been shown to be a primary reason for dropping out of school and high school dropouts are 3.5 times more likely than high school graduates to be incarcerated.

Inclusive Partnerships

The strategies that work best are those that rely on a mix of public-private partnership and support, broad-based involvement from system actors, and community stakeholders including families and youth. In CJJ’s 2001 report to the President, Congress, and the Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention, “Abandoned in the Back Row: New Lessons in Education and Delinquency Prevention,” we pinpointed specific strategies and qualities of supportive school settings serving low income and at-risk populations. Such supportive schools and educational settings involve parents and family members, seek to develop children’s/youths’ strengths and personal assets, and create positive environments for communication and learning.

Focus on Racial/Ethnic Disparities

Both the efficacy and integrity of the juvenile justice systems are threatened if school and juvenile justice sanctions are disproportionately applied to specific races and ethnic groups.