'Defund the (School) Police'?: Bringing Data to Key School-to-Prison Pipeline Claims

57 Pages Posted: 11 Jan 2022

See all articles by Michael Heise

Michael Heise

Cornell Law School

Jason P. Nance

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law

Date Written: November 16, 2021


Nationwide calls to “Defund the Police,” largely attributable to the resurgent Black Lives Matter demonstrations, have motivated derivative calls for public school districts to consider “defunding” (or modifying) school resource officer (“SRO/police”) programs. To be sure, a school’s SRO/police presence—and the size of that presence—may influence the school’s student discipline reporting policies and practices. How schools report student discipline and whether it involves referrals to law enforcement agencies matter, particularly as they may fuel a growing “school-to-prison pipeline.” The school-to-prison pipeline research literature features two general claims that frame debates about changes in how public schools approach student discipline and the growing number of calls for schools to defund SRO/police programs. One claim is that public schools’ increasingly “legalized” approach toward student discipline increases the likelihood that students will be thrust into the criminal justice system. A second distributional claim is that these adverse consequences disproportionately involve students of color, boys, students from low-income households, and other vulnerable student sub-groups. Both claims include important legal and policy dimensions as students’ adverse interactions with law enforcement agencies typically impose negative consequences on students and their futures. We subject both claims to the nation’s leading data set on public school crime and safety, supplemented by data on state-level mandatory reporting requirements and district-level per pupil spending, and explore three distinct analytic approaches in an effort to assess the independent influence of a school’s SRO/police presence on that school’s student discipline reporting behavior. Results from our analyses, largely robust to various analytical approaches, provide mixed support for the two claims. We find that a school’s SRO/police presence corresponds with an increased likelihood that the school will report student incidents to law enforcement agencies. However, we do not find support in the school-level data for the distributional claim.

Keywords: education, schools, criminal justice, juvenile justice, empirical

Suggested Citation

Heise, Michael and Nance, Jason P., 'Defund the (School) Police'?: Bringing Data to Key School-to-Prison Pipeline Claims (November 16, 2021). 111 J. Crim. L. & Criminology 717 (2021), Cornell Legal Studies Research Paper 20-23, University of Florida Levin College of Law Research Paper No. 21-28, Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3589300 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3589300

Michael Heise (Contact Author)

Cornell Law School ( email )

308 Myron Taylor Hall
Ithaca, NY 14853-4901
United States
607-255-0069 (Phone)
607-255-7193 (Fax)

Jason P. Nance

Southern Methodist University - Dedman School of Law ( email )

P.O. Box 750116
Dallas, TX 75275
United States

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