It is common knowledge that children and adolescents fall prey to any and every detrimental circumstance that may surround them. While some institutions fight to protect children and adolescents from such instances, policies that promote “zero tolerance” do the exact opposite. “In The School –to- Prison Pipeline: A Critical Review of the Punitive Paradigm Shift” Christopher Mallet (2016) elaborates on the series of events that led to the creation of such a policy, and the aftermath that followed.
Mallet (2016) explains that the media and other various institutions played a huge role in the creation of such policies, as they pushed an image that falsified the severity of gang violence and juvenile delinquency. Because the public was exposed to a fabricated idea of heightened juvenile delinquency, educational institutions began to create policies that initially fought against high risk criminal activity (i.e. gun and gang violence). One of the policies that was brought forth was the Gun Free Schools Act of 1994. As stated previously, this piece of legislation fought against high risk activity, expelling any student that possessed a gun while at school. Students who were found in possession of a weapon also became a defendant within the criminal justice system, more specifically, Juvenile Court.
The zero tolerance policies that came about eventually began to address minor behavioral issues such as drug possession, disorderly conduct, and noncompliance as well. Looking back, while society did see a spike in criminal activity amongst the teenage population in the mid-90s, it is also noted that this issue in particular began to quickly fade away.
It is important to reemphasize that the fear of the super predator derived from a distortion of reality that was provided by the media. The massacre at Columbine High School received a lot of attention from media outlets, mostly because it was so brutal in nature. Media outlets described this incident as if it was the first to ever occur, however that was not the case.
There happened to be other school shooting massacres to occur before the Columbine massacre, however, the media industry chose to heavily focus on that specific massacre. Research reveals that were other schools, mostly based out of Alaska, Mississippi, Kentucky, Washington, and Oregon. Although the public has been convinced that educational institutions are filled with violence, recent studies have revealed that school systems are overall a non-violent, socializing agent.
As stated earlier, students who violate zero-tolerance policies are often expelled or suspended from their assigned school. According to Mongan and Walker (2012), students who spend most of their time in the home throughout the day are at a disadvantage. It is important to highlight that most children and adolescents experience the most structure while at their assigned school.
When students are stripped away from their structured learning violent, they are often thrown back into noxious atmospheres that are detrimental to their well-being. Expulsion and suspension also strain current relationships that students may have with their peers and teachers. Once these relationships become strained, students will often detach, and will no longer see the importance in receiving an education.
Also, being expelled or suspended for a long period of time will make students believe that they can no longer keep up, which may eventually lead to externalizing behavior. Externalizing behavior, also known as “acting out” is one of the main causes of expulsion and suspension, and now we are back at square one.
Sadly, children and adolescents who are in the minority and possess mental disabilities fall victim to these punitive policies. Moody (2016) elaborated on the fact that students who are African American are disproportionately expelled and suspended when compared to students who are Caucasian.
Studies also highlight that students who are in the minority are less likely to be professionally or legitimately labeled as an ADHD child. Caucasian students on the other hand, are more often than not professionally diagnosed with ADHD, and their behaviors are often excused or discounted due to their diagnosis. African American students are often seen as “super predators” and wild in nature, therefore, teachers and administrators ignore the fact that these students are acting out due to an existing condition.
It is imperative that these children and adolescents are correctly diagnosed, because then they will receive adequate help and the proper tools to successfully navigate throughout society. When not given this assistance, students will most likely fail at creating a legitimate plan that leads to a fruitful life. Not being able to secure such a plan will definitely force someone to obtain basic needs through illegal means.
Zero tolerance policies are not the only pieces of legislation that force children and adolescents into the criminal justice system. In “The Juvenile Ultimatum: Reframing Blended Sentencing Laws to Ensure Juveniles Receive a Genuine “One Last Chance at Success” Anabel Cassady (2017) elaborates on juvenile transfer laws. Juvenile transfer laws give prosecutors and judges the authority to transfer specific cases and sentencing to higher courts.
First, you have the judicial waiver. When exercising the judicial waiver, judges have the absolute right to transfer a juvenile’s case to a superior court, if he or she finds it appropriate. This particular practice is cited as the most common of all juvenile transfer laws. Next, you have the prosecutorial direct file. When using this transfer law, juveniles can either receive sentencing within the juvenile courts or adult courts. The prosecutor in this instance has total discretion, which eliminates the review and feedback from the judge or any panel.
Lastly, you have the statutory offense exclusion. Under this law, juveniles who commit a certain crime and are at a specific age automatically receive their sentencing in a higher court. This particular transfer law appears to be the most punitive, as juveniles who fit such a criteria are not given a second chance at success. It is also noted that juveniles have the possibility of being sentenced as an adult permanently.
In this scenario, juveniles who commit crimes that warrant adult sentencing will always going forward receive that type of sentencing. Also, there are some jurisdictions that practice blended sentencing. With blended sentencing, juvenile offenders are initially given a juvenile court disposition, however, such sentencing can be replaced with an adult sentence if that juvenile violates any term that is outlined in their juvenile disposition.
The literature that has been presented definitely highlights the main causes of juvenile incarceration. The zero-tolerance policies that are enacted within educational institutions creates what nost