Zero-Tolerance Policies Could Make Schools Less Safe



When it comes to stopping youth violence, some experts say that

zero-tolerance policies in schools could make schools less safe, Salon

reported March 9.

"By creating zero tolerance, you raise the price of telling an adult about

what a kid you like told you. Under those circumstances, you get exactly what

you had here: a reluctance to tell on your friends," said Frank Zimring, a

law professor at the University of California at Berkeley who has studied

crime statistics for 30 years, referring to the recent shooting at Santana

High School in California.


Zimring pointed out that the juvenile murder rate is at its lowest level in

nearly 20 years. Statistics from the U.S. Justice Department also confirm

that juvenile murder arrests have declined 68 percent between their peak year

of 1993 and 1999. Data shows that schools remain the safest place for

children to be.


"You're five times as likely to get killed on your way to school or from it

than in school," said Zimring. "So if you want to create a metal-detector

society, you better put the metal detectors on the other side of the



Jaana Juvonen, a behavioral scientist at the Rand Institute, agrees with

Zimring, noting that solutions put in place to reduce juvenile violence "may

not only be ineffective but may actually backfire."


Juvonen said, "We think of zero tolerance as the school's way of showing kids

how they will not tolerate that kind of behavior. But this is a mere tactic

to punish; it's retribution. We focus on the act and we forget the motives,

and by doing that we may actually increase a kid's risk for future behavior

problems, and at least the kid's alienation from school."


Instead of installing metal detectors and having police on duty in schools,

Juvonen said the most important factor in preventing school violence is

psychological safety. Metal detectors and in-school police may contribute to

the perception that school is not a safe place to be, making the problem

worse, not better.


"There's been a crisis and now everybody and their grandma seems to come up

with a solution, and people are going wildly after these programs," Juvonen

said of the California school shooting. "What's scary about it is not only

the money that gets poured into some programs where there's no proof of their

effectiveness, but that when you start probing and questioning some of the

underlying assumptions of these programs, you say, why would this ever work?"