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?"