A Tale of Two Systems: How Schools and Juvenile Courts are Failing Students
13 U.Md. L.J. Race, Religion, Gender & Class 179 (2013)
35 Pages Posted: 5 Feb 2014 Last revised: 27 Aug 2014
Date Written: February 5, 2014
The author draws on her experience as a former high school teacher, a juvenile defender, and the co-director of a juvenile justice clinic to illustrate the failure of two systems – schools and courts – to work together to prepare the children to become law-abiding citizens. Children who misbehave at school suffer punishment at school, and are frequently excluded from their schools because of suspension or expulsion. These same children are then prosecuted in juvenile delinquency court based on the original misconduct at school. This double punishment by both school and court is developmentally unsound. Double punishment of school-children backfires because it is untimely, stigmatic, and unresponsive to the behavior. Sanctions by schools and juvenile delinquency courts are viewed as unfair and overly harsh by children, their families, and their communities. These punishments are disproportionately applied to marginalized groups of students, like those students who are disabled and belong to racial and ethnic minority groups, conveying a strong message of injustice. Ultimately, double punishment disincentivizes students to respect the law, perpetuating delinquency. The author explains the importance of collaborative lawyering and a holistic model of representation to intervene on behalf of children trapped in the school-to-prison pipeline. School and juvenile court systems should focus on the individualized circumstances of the youth in their care. Schools are best poised to address and correct student behavior problems with developmentally appropriate responses that teach and promote good citizenship. To reduce juvenile delinquency court referrals, the author proposes that schools, prosecutors, and courts institute policies to disfavor delinquency referrals when a student’s misconduct has been addressed at school or is related to a disability.
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