“In Massachusetts, Black and brown students make up 27% of the student body, but 64% of the school-based arrests.”
With the new school year in full swing, a new report from the Sentencing Project outlines key steps Massachusetts and other states could take to end what they call the school-to-prison pipeline.
A number of districts in the Commonwealth employ police officers in schools, known as school resource officers.
Leon Smith, executive director of Citizens for Juvenile Justice, said there is little evidence the presence of a police officer improves school safety. He pointed to data that instead shows their presence increases school- and discipline-based arrests.
“Who’s affected by that? Overwhelmingly Black and brown students and students with disabilities,” Smith explained. “In Massachusetts, Black and brown students make up 27% of the student body, but 64% of the school-based arrests.”
Easthampton Public Schools removed its school resource officers this year, and Worcester Public Schools is in the process. Smith urged officials in other districts to do the same, and direct resources instead towards counseling and mental-health support, which the report noted is insufficient in the state.
The report showed students suffered learning loss and disengagement while studying at home last school year because of the pandemic, especially low-income, Black and Latinx students, English-language learners and students with disabilities. Smith argued it is important to understand students’ underlying needs are greater than ever.
“You have these still-developing, still-impulsive, young people trying to figure themselves out, some of them have already been through difficulties, and then the pandemic happens,” Smith recounted. “Our focus does not need to be on the security and punitive measures; we really have to increase those supports.”
Nate Balis, director of the juvenile justice strategy group for the Annie E. Casey Foundation, said federal COVID stimulus funding for education, totaling more than $120 billion, offers an unprecedented chance to launch services outside of law enforcement to help vulnerable children.
“There’s opportunities for funding that have never been there before,” Balis asserted. “Where we can support young people and their families through tutoring and mentoring, or from community programs that may not exist in those districts right now.”