Criminalizing Student Misconduct
The father of Wilson Reyes, a seven year old boy who was arrested and detained in handcuffs at a Bronx elementary school four days after allegedly stealing 5 dollars from a classmate is suing the NYPD for $250 million, “alleging the boy was verbally, physically and emotionally abused, intimidated, humiliated, embarrassed and defamed”. The New York Post reported that the boy was taken to the precinct where he was handcuffed to a wall. Democracy Now aired a story this morning reporting that the boy was interrogated for four hours by police about his alleged involvement in an assault and robbery on a classmate while walking home from school. While the details of this story are in dispute what is clear is the frightening trend of criminalizing child misbehaver at schools across the nation.
In Meridian, Mississippi police have been authorized by school officials to take charge of disciplining misconduct. Students in Meridian elementary and high schools have been arrested for offenses like “dress code violations, flatulence, profanity, and disrespect.” After arrests students are funneled into the juvenile justice system where they are often meted out probation sentences. The Washington Post reported a Department of Justice official stating that students involved in subsequent violations of school disciplinary code can be sentenced “to serve any suspensions from school incarcerated in the juvenile detention center,” a consequence of violating probation. As police continue to replace school faculty in disciplining students, children and adolescents will become increasingly ensnared in the criminal justice system via the school-prison-pipeline. Diffusing itself throughout the education system is a process of hypervigilant punishment feeding bodies into the lucrative world of incarceration regardless of age.That criminal activity and student misconduct are no longer distinct categories dealt with by their respectful institutions-schools for students and police for criminals- reflects the expanding reaching of the criminal justice system into public life and the overarching power of the police to feed that system.
Commenting on this disturbing trend, the city’s Public Advocate stated “Our school system’s overreliance on the NYPD as a disciplinary tool traumatizes our young people, sows distrust in our communities and drains vital City resources away from responding to genuine crimes. This has to stop.”
The spread of the tentacles of discipline fortify a wayward system of punishment that has made its way into our schools. An institution primarily responsible for educating and teaching civic virtue is being converted into an institution that gives orders and aggressively punishes those who violate them. The United States has more prisoners incarcerated than anywhere else in the world. Estimates range between 1.6 and 2.6 million. Among “advanced” industrialized countries it ranks among the lowest in education. Continuing policies that result in thousands of youths being arrested before graduation is a surefire way to ensure America’s public education system keeps slipping and its prison population keeps soaring. Instead of learning grammar or arithmetic children are receiving harsh lessons in criminal justice away from their desks handcuffed to the wall.