Saturday, February 27, 2010

Treating kids like criminals

In Alternet there is a rather disturbing article about how kids are treated as criminals for even the smallest infractions

Arrested for Doodling on a Desk? "Zero Tolerance" at Schools Is Going Way Too Far

Not only are kids treated as criminals for doing stuff like doodling on desks, there have also been cases of invasion of privacy (strip-searching and spying on kids through webcams), and even a case of breaching a kid's civil rights (refusing to stand up and recite the pledge of allegiance).

Each of the case reported in the article are hopefully isolated cases, but given the fact that there are no statistics on the number of kids arrested, it's hard to say how widespread the problem is.

In New York, the criminalization of schoolkids seems to be particularly bad, as a NYCLU report (.pdf) explains. The problem seems to have become particularly bad after the New York Police took over the security of New York public schools back in 1998.

"Zero tolerance" laws were panic reactions to some very troubling incidents, but like all such reactions, they were not thought out properly, and do more harm than good. A school with harassment from security guards/police, body searches, and metal detectors is not a good learning environment. Instead, much more gentle, and targeted, measures should be used.

Last year, NYCLU released another report, this time about how one could provide safety for students, without criminalizing them: Safety with Dignity: Alternatives to the Over-Policing of Schools

Hopefully this report will convince the people in charge of school security to change their methods, and allow the kids to be kids, without fear of getting arrested for even minor infractions.

In case the report is not enough, perhaps the class action lawsuit by ACLU and NYCLU will help instead.

NYPD personnel assigned to New York City’s public schools have repeatedly violated students’ civil rights through wrongful arrests and the excessive use of force, according to a class action federal lawsuit filed today by the New York Civil Liberties Union, American Civil Liberties Union and the law firm of Dorsey & Whitney LLP.

The landmark lawsuit challenges the conduct and behavior of police officers and school safety officers (SSOs) serving in the NYPD’s School Safety Division. It was filed on behalf of five middle school and high school students who were physically abused and wrongfully arrested at school by NYPD personnel. The plaintiffs seek system-wide reform in New York City’s middle schools and high schools.

Either way, the current system got to change.

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Blogger Kevin Zelnio said...

I would have ended up in jail, dead, or in a life of trouble if I were in the environment kids have to deal with these days in their school. I was a big troublemaker, talked against to my teachers, smoked and drank in school and generally didn't give a shit.

Had I been criminalized for my behavior, I guarantee never would have awaken to my potential and thrived later in my life. I just would have been depressed further into criminal behavior

February 27, 2010 2:23 PM  
Blogger Kristjan Wager said...

Kevin, I think a lot of intelligent people can at least partly recognize themselves in your description.

It's a horrible way of dealing with normal childhood behavior.

February 27, 2010 2:41 PM  

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